As Fall Arrives, Retailers Are Already Prepping for the Holidays

Thanksgiving is more than a month away, but many retailers are already busy planning for the holiday shopping season. The launch seems to arrive earlier every year, but a lot of planning and preparation goes into the busiest shopping season of the year. After all, the National Retail Federation says the holiday shopping season accounts for around 40% of annual retail sales.

A new prediction from the professional services firm Deloitte says holiday retail sales are likely to grow about 4.5 percent, which is about the same rate as last year. Trend monitoring firm eMarketer revised its holiday sales projections upwards recently and reported that it now expects 2013 U.S. retail ecommerce holiday season sales to grow about 15.1 percent to $61.8 billion, up from $53.7 billion in the 2012 holiday season and $46.6 billion in the 2011 holiday shopping season.

Consumer income has been flat this year. Shoppers may be cautious about overspending and will head out to shop armed with their smartphones looking for the best deal. But some retailers “are completely ignoring mobile,” says consumer behavior expert Eric Holtzclaw, CEO of Laddering Works. “They should have a mobile app and they should have social media campaigns that really interact with their consumers so that they can help them along that decision-buying process and then they’ll go ahead and purchase the product,” says Holtzclaw.

According to eMarketer, U.S. retail ecommerce sales from mobile devices are projected to reach $9.8 billion in November and December of this year. Ignoring mobile could be an expensive mistake, but it’s not the only one retailers could make this winter . Here are some key factors retailers should consider in their holiday season plan.

Start Promotions Earlier

Way before the holidays, people make their shopping lists and sometimes set their sights on acquiring items they’ve desired all year before the holidays. A recent Google consumer survey found 30% of consumers are expecting to start shopping for the holidays before Halloween.

With early bird shoppers eager to buy, retailers need to provide earlier deals, specials and promotions to meet that need to capture early season sales. Don’t be last to the party with your customers. Be the first amongst your competitors to launch your promotional schedule and singled yourself out with your customers.

Price Matters Big Time

While many of the 2013 holiday shopping season predictions have been generally positive — more ecommerce sales, more mobile sales — it’s pretty clear that shoppers will use price to make buying decisions.

A Google Consumer Survey from July 2013 found that consumers are generally not loyal to a particular brand when shopping for gifts, with 40 percent of those surveyed saying that they simply look for the best price. Finding the best price is getting a lot easier for modern shoppers, who can check online marketplaces like Amazon and shopping price comparison sites, including Google Shopping and PriceGrabber.

If you can’t beat your competitors on price, you’ve got to find another angle with your customers. Offer them a mobile shopping app where they can make easy wish lists, receive special discounts and provide quick self checkouts to avoid notoriously long lines around the holidays.

Or try offering a customer loyalty program to take advantage of all of the new faces visiting your store during the busy holiday shopping season. Try opening an hour early one day only for frequent shoppers in the loyalty program. These shoppers can enjoy a hassle-free shopping experience before the general public joins them as a reward for being a loyal customer.

Offer Layaway

A lot of major stores offer layaway programs to their customers because they generally encourage customers, especially those operating on a holiday budget, to spend more than they originally would’ve during the holidays. If you’re concerned about losing revenue from holding items for customers who might end up cancelling before payment, institute a reasonable cancellation fee that’ll help you recover those losses. Customers generally appreciate being given the option for layaway. A satisfied customer is usually always good for business.

Prepare for Inventory Needs

Popular items will fly off the shelves fast during the holiday season. You don’t want to miss out on sales just because you didn’t anticipate the rush. After looking for the best price, shoppers prioritize retailers with the best selection to choose from when deciding where to shop. If your customers can make wish lists, take into account the most wished for items, make sure they’re generously stocked and be prepared for those customers to finally purchase those items.

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