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Fall 2000 Ten 11th-Hour Tips for Super Holiday Sales

You’ve been planning for months, and now you’re psyched for the rush of frenzied shoppers, and a strong fourth quarter. But before you wrap up your preparations, try these last-minute ideas for a super season.

1. Give discounts for repeat buyers.

Chances are, your customers will be in the vicinity of your retail location several times during the holiday buying season. Give them incentives to shop with you more than once during the holiday season by giving discounts for repeat sales. Print frequent- shopper cards giving a 5 percent discount on the first purchase, 10 percent on the second, 15 percent on the third. Specify a time frame, such as “Good on purchases made through December 24th.”

2. Hold a drawing.

People love drawings, and those who visit your location will enter one whether they buy or not. Promotional materials and signs for the drawing will bring them in; then you can sell! You can have a single drawing for a large prize, or weekly drawings for something smaller from the merchandise you carry—a Christmas ornament, or candles, or gourmet goodies. And of course, the winners will be back. Another direct benefit: not only will a drawing create interest, it’s also a great way to build your mailing list of prospects and customers.

3. Demonstrate, demonstrate.

Think you’re not selling a demonstration item? Think again! Making your products accessible and approachable, and showing them in use, makes them more marketable. Toys are a perfect example: if you carry playthings, take one or two particularly fun ones out of the box and play with them. If you personalize holiday ornaments, show how. Sweatshirts? Wear them! Gadgets? Show how they work. Perfume or make-up? Have some testers open (and a mirror next to the make-up) so customers can experiment. As the old saying goes, “Trying is buying.”

4. Change your look.

Every two weeks or so, change something about your location to catch the eye of passers-by. Relatively inexpensive and easy ideas include changing the color scheme; using wrapped risers; putting a fanciful lace border around the top of the cart—and then switching to red velvet a few weeks later for a holiday feel. Other holiday ideas: adorn your canopy with dangling paper snowflakes and add tiny holiday lights as December rolls around. Even changing the color of your sale signs gives the eye something new to look at and be drawn by. No matter what you decide to try, though, decorate simply and use well-made props.

5. New merchandise = new sales.

By November, you’ve probably decided on and purchased your holiday merchandise. But what if one of your major product lines fails to live up to your sales expectations? To counter this possibility, always be on the lookout for hot, new products that may be unexpected top sellers. Manufacturers can often ship quickly during November and December, since most of their high-volume buyers completed their Christmas buying months ago. With customers returning to your location (see Tip #1), it’s a good idea to have at least one new holiday line to give them something fresh to purchase.

6. Give extra-special customer service.

Good customer service is a must anytime—you know that. But when the going gets tough and customers are weary and irritable, which is so common during the holiday season, it’s time for you and your sales staff to turn on the charm. Be helpful, upbeat, smiley and kind, and instruct your staff to go the extra mile with you. Don’t wait for customers to ask for help—ask them what they’re looking for and show them your selection. Go out of your way to reduce or speed up check-out lines. Offer candy canes for the kids and hard candies or cookies for the grown-ups. In short, anticipating and meeting customers’ needs will increase sales. It may not be easy, since you and your employees will be just as weary. But it will be worth it.

7. Use the “Macy’s-Gimbel’s” gambit.

You may remember this one from the movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” a holiday favorite and a lesson in retail helpfulness and great marketing finesse. When the one retail giant didn’t have what customers wanted, they sent them to their arch-rival! And good word about the store spread. If you don’t have what your customer is looking for, let them know where they can get it—even if it’s from your biggest competitor! You’re not losing a sale—after all, you didn’t have what they wanted in the first place. But the customer will remember your willingness to accommodate. And you may find them browsing your merchandise anyway, or stopping back when they do need what you sell.

8. Wrap it up.

Offer last-minute gift wrap—tissue paper, a festive gift bag and a small tag—at no charge or for a small fee. Making life a little simpler for customers during the holiday frenzy by alleviating the hassle of last-minute wrapping will make the small additional cost well worth it. Knowing that the gifts they buy from you are “all done” might even spur customers to make impulse purchases, too.

9. Spread good cheer.

Everyone has a cause they’re drawn to—children with AIDS, cancer research, animal welfare, environmental affairs, or one of many other concerns. This spirited season is a great time to offer something to the community, whether money (e.g., a percentage of profits or a portion of each sale), time (yours and perhaps your staff’s), or merchandise. Make the commitment to do it, and then promote your generosity (if money, you don’t have to say how much) and the charity or organization. It will put you in a favorable light with shoppers, who might even make an unexpected purchase so that they can be part of your philanthropy. Plus, it’s good business—and a good feeling—to be a caring, involved retailer. You may even decide to continue giving throughout the year.

10. Use January.

Holiday sales don’t end with the flash and festivities of New Year’s Eve. Right after Christmas is the time to capitalize on shoppers who received gifts of money or mall gift certificates, or who need accessories to go with holiday gifts they’ve opened. January is an important and profitable “extra” holiday sales month. So change your displays, discount your holiday merchandise, add new product lines, and market the heck out of your location with mailings (don’t forget those new customers you created with Tip #2!), advertising, and special sales and promotions.

Finally, keep the momentum going! You can adapt and use these tips all through the year, and enjoy super sales every month.

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