Winter 2002 Moving Slow-Selling Items

Every specialty retailer gets saddled with some discontinued or mis-ordered items, remnants of fads, and other merchandise that just wouldn’t move. It sits there taking up valuable display space, gathering dust, and creating inventory and P&L headaches for you, the owner. So how do you get rid of those slow-sellers? Here are some ideas that worked for others—some will likely work for you.

Package a slow-mover with something “faster.”

Computer and software makers call it “bundling.” If you have many leftover small, less expensive items, advertise “purchase plus”: Buy a large, expensive item for a set price and get the smaller item for a penny more. When you have invested in the freebie, it’s worth it to move the big-ticket item at a higher profit. Plus, it builds a good customer relationship.

Try better locations—and red tags.

Put your slow-movers in the best locations on your cart or in your store (like near the cash register). And put red-tag specials on them. The red tags (or cards or signs), which show the original and sale prices, will catch the eye of shoppers walking by.

Have a raffle.

Raffle your discontinued merchandise. If you’re going to end up losing money on them anyway, why not use them to sell more of your other merchandise? One retailer puts higher-priced “old” merchandise on a counter and conducts a Dutch auction. “We mark it down a dollar a day until it’s sold. People look at it and either buy it or say, ‘I’ll be back; I’ll wait until it goes down to whatever amount.'” Of course, the chance they take by waiting is that someone else will come in and buy it first. Don’t pay good money to run a sales ad when you can’t be guaranteed you’ll sell it anyhow. This way, you give the $150 or whatever it might cost to run an ad to the consumer, by way of a discounted price.

Tell preferred customers.

Mail a card to your better customers to tell them a particular item is now at a lower price. It’s more advantageous to pass these savings on to consistently good customers than to shoppers who just happen to wander in.

Use better selling skills.

A sales associate who can sell is more important than any other factor in moving slow merchandise. Every item has its good points—if you have a good sales person, he or she will have a great shot at selling slow movers by accentuating the positive. Sales skills come into play all the more when you’re trying to move discontinued items. When you have tomoveend-of-the-year merchandise because new models or designs are coming in, tell the customer exactly what the changes in design will be, and which of those changes won’t matter for the extra dollars at full price. “Here’s what you get at this lower price, and here’s what you get with the new model for more. Is it worth it to you?” Many times the customer sees right away that it’s not worth it—and you’ve sold the sale item.

Have a pre-inventory sale every year.

And to continue the momentum year-round, put these items on a half-price table or shelf in an easy-to-spot area of your cart or a high-traffic area of your store.

A few rules:

  • Make the sale a real sale event. Advertise to let everyone know when and where, and point out the great savings you’re offering.
  • Don’t have the sale more than twice a year, and make this fact clear in your promotions.
  • Run the sale for one day only, so customers will see this as a genuine sale, not a gimmick.
  • Create a flea market atmosphere by grouping your merchandise by price—for example, a $19 table (or shelf), a $9 table, a $5 and a $1 table. Or if the price points for most of your merchandise is lower, simply set lower “sale table” prices for the groupings.
  • Don’t keep anything you don’t sell. Pass it on to a liquidator, or donate it to a charity (and get a tax benefit).
  • Have enough stuff. No matter when, where or how you run a sale, one caveat always applies: Have enough stuff. You have to have enough merchandise for the sale to create the perception—and the reputation—that your sales are “real” sales and worth going to. One retailer avoids this problem by waiting until they have “a lot of stuff that needs to go.” Then they put on the sale. There’s no set schedule.

By using these ideas, you can turn the unavoidable challenge of slow-selling products into an exciting, productive event for your specialty retail business. A little ingenuity, a little promotion, and you not only move some slow-selling merchandise, but you’ll attract positive attention, new customers, happy repeat customers… and make room for new (and hopefully, fast-moving) inventory.

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