Fall 2008 25 Ways to Boost Your Holiday Sales and Profits

Q & A

Once the holiday season is underway, there’s a lot you can do to land more sales and bank as much profit as possible, no matter what the economic climate. The key is to be proactive. Don’t sit back and let the holiday season unfold before you. If you want the most sales possible, it’s up to you to take charge and make it happen.

In this issue of Specialty Retail Report we turned to a number of industry experts to get their best advice on how to sell more product, pocket more profit and grow your business into next year. From visual merchandisers with decades of experience designing high-impact displays for carts and kiosks, to retailers who have been through every economic up and down and know how to sell in any environment, to the retail consultants who know how to conceptualize, launch and grow a successful specialty retail business-here’s what these savvy professionals had to say about maximizing your sales this holiday season.

1. Have enough product on hand.

You’ll want to have four to five times as much product as you expect in sales for the season.¬†Keep your backstock handy and your display fully stocked. Create the desire to buy with an abundance of product choices so your customers can each find something to buy that speaks to them.

Deborah Kravitz, Partner, Provenzano Resources, Inc.

2. Demonstrate, demonstrate, demonstrate!

Most products can be demonstrated and demonstrations do increase sales-if they’re done right. Train your employees on how to run a proper demonstration. Don’t leave it up to them to develop a strong demo pitch. If you want the most sales possible, you need to give your employees a selling road map to follow.

Mark Klockner, President, Retail Infusion

3. Focus on upselling and add-on sales.

Determine which products can be paired up for sale together, to increase the value of any given sale (add-on selling) and which products have more expensive or upgraded models that salespeople can suggest customers consider (upselling). Train your sales staff on how to increase their sales using these two methods, then reinforce that training throughout the holidays as buying trends might change.

Andrea Waltz, Co-owner, Courage Crafters

Bonus tip: Pair up slow-moving items with complementary products and repackage as a special buy to get your slow movers out the door.

4. Never stop hiring.

Experienced retailers hire throughout the entire holiday season. They know that to keep your employee pipeline humming, you must be continually hiring. Use an employee-referral system that rewards your current employees for referring anyone subsequently hired. New employees who already have a connection at your company through a friend or family member tend to be more loyal and dependable over the course of the holiday season-just the kind of employees you’ll need to make the most sales possible.

Mike Mahoney, President, SolarX Eyewear

5. Increase your location’s visibility.

Consider adopting a signature color scheme that makes you stand out from your retail neighbors and other distractions that might be around your location. Choose a color scheme helps tell the story of your product and is distinctive. If your product relates to the ocean, you might choose turquoise and sandy tan. If your product is for teens, the latest bright fashion-forward color will catch their eyes. 

Cindy Kern, Visual Merchandising Consultant, Kern Consulting

6. Use pay incentives to motivate.

Make sure your salespeople can earn a commission or SPIFFS (Special Pay Incentives For Fast Sales) to encourage higher sales. Set specific sales goals and track salesperson performance.

Deborah Kravitz, Partner, Provenzano Resources, Inc.

7. Don’t settle for mediocre employees.

Uninspired, unmotivated salespeople will cost you sales every day throughout the season.¬†This year there’s good news for retailers on the hiring front: more candidates than usual are looking for seasonal work, so resist the temptation to hire “a warm body.” Once you have your team in place, determine who your top performers are by looking at your store’s daily sales figures. Keep only the employees who are landing the most sales.

Patricia Norins, Publisher, Specialty Retail Report

8. Be unique.

One of the top reasons that consumers shop carts and kiosks is because they carry unique products.¬†Even if your core product is mainstream, you can highlight the most unique aspects of your merchandise with the right professional signage, or you can fill-in your offerings with some new and unique products that can’t be found elsewhere. Give your customers the chance to find something new and delightful at your store!

Ajay Chadha, Vice President, Spa Concepts, Inc.

9. Make your store a “happy place” to encourage sales.

First, set the tone for your business by staying positive and focused throughout the season. Second, give your salespeople proper care and feeding. When your guests (customers) approach your store, your salespeople need to be relatively content, meaning they’ve had their breaks, have had time to eat when appropriate and are pleased to see your customers.

Deborah Kravitz, Partner, Provenzano Resources, Inc.

Bonus tip: Keep your displays and cash wrap area tidy and dust/clean regularly (make a schedule). Replace any blown lightbulbs promptly to keep your location bright and cheery.

10. Want to hire enthusiastic salespeople who have a passion for your product?

Talk to the people already in love with your product: your best customers. Their passion for your product will show in your sales. Your best customers just might be interested in receiving an employee discount, earning some extra money during the holiday season and spreading the good news about your fabulous merchandise. But you won’t know until you ask.

Judy Batson, President, CartWorks Corp.

11. Give your products some visual oomph

by adding strong background color with low-cost temporary backboards that give your products a color contrast so they pop! You can rearrange and switch-out the backboards easily as the season progresses to keep your display looking fresh.

Cindy Kern, Visual Merchandising Consultant, Kern Consulting

12. Get rid of any handwritten signs.

Only professionally printed, framed signs help boost your sales. Handwritten signs hurt your image and credibility. A hand-written, flimsy sign awkwardly taped to a cart post is the surest way to put a crimp in your sales.

Deborah Kravitz, Partner, Provenzano Resources, Inc.

13. Collect all the customer data you can.

Capture each customer’s name, mailing address, phone number and email address. On a regular basis email your customer base to offer incentives and specials to entice them to come back and purchase again. Start an email newsletter for your customers. Include up-to-date information about your products, announcements of new lines and special promotions or discounts. The more you communicate with your customers, the more they will come back to buy again.

Jerry Jones, District Specialty Retail Manager, CBL & Associates Properties, Inc.

Bonus tip: Track your customers’ purchases. Knowing what your customers are buying (or not) will help you spot which products are trending up and which are losing steam, so you can focus your selling efforts where it really matters.

14. Understand who your customers are.

Know the demographics of the shopping venue you’re in and choose your products accordingly. Don’t imagine yourself as the first retailer who’s going to make a million dollars selling iPods to seniors. Instead, focus on your most-likely buyers. Ask your leasing agent for all available shopper data, traffic patterns and past traffic history during the holiday season. Leasing agents know a great deal about their center’s clientele anecdotally, too-if you take the time to ask.

Anita  L. Saleh, Vice President Specialty Leasing, Taubman

15. Take advantage of all marketing co-ops.

Work with your retail venue’s marketing department and they’ll work with you to drive sales to your business. If your center doesn’t offer marketing co-ops, create your own with¬†the retailers around¬†you.¬†For example, you might sell sports memorabilia and the cart next door sells hair irons.¬†Give your sports merchandise buyers a discount coupon for the hair irons cart and vice versa. Of course, the buyers of sports merchandise aren’t usually the same as buyers of hair irons, but you’re retailing during the holiday season when customers are buying for a wide range of people on their lists. If a guy buys a sports item from your cart for his teen son, he might be very interested in a 20%-off coupon to buy a hair iron for his wife. Don’t discount the power of teaming up!¬†

Coleen McNelis, Vice President Specialty Leasing, Macerich

16. Give the impression of permanence.

As a holiday retailer, it’s especially important that you take steps to position your business as a permanent entity within the venue.¬†
An air of permanence will increase traffic as you start to become a “destination” as well as an “impulse” merchant.¬†When successful, you will increase shoppers’ confidence that you’ll be there to serve their ongoing needs, including repeat purchases, product service and returns. Broadly speaking, a permanent retailer has a strong merchandising plan, fully stocked displays, product-specific fixturing and quality signage and messaging. Take a look at your location objectively, or better yet: Ask for unvarnished feedback from other merchants, shoppers or mall staff regarding your location’s first impressions and shopability.¬†

Greg Guyette, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Kiosko Inc.

17. Make product knowledge a priority.

Make sure your salespeople know your products’ features and benefits inside out. Teach them strategies for being assertive but not aggressive in their sales approach. Review how different types of customers view your products and what features and benefits appeal most to each group, so your sales-people can tailor their selling approach to individual customers as needed.

Suzanne Cayley, Vice President Specialty Leasing and Partnerships, Ivanhoe Cambridge

Bonus tip: Train your staff to do a housecleaning check each morning, noon and night, tidying, dusting and restocking as necessary to keep your location looking ready for sales.

18. Arrange your merchandise so it’s easily shopable.

People like to buy from stores that are easy to shop, so have your products arranged appropriately, grouping items as necessary. Signage should be clear so customers understand what’s on sale, what’s not, and what the price is of each item. One caveat: Don’t overdo sale stickers by putting a bright orange sticker on every item; it diminishes the impact of your entire display.

Coleen McNelis, Vice President Specialty Leasing, Macerich

19. Improve your customer service.

It’s a proven fact that if customers walk away from their buying experience impressed, they will tell their friends and they will likely return for future purchases. Train your sales staff in proper sales etiquette, have uniforms and name tags for all employees, offer unique gift wrapping and gift cards, offer a generous return policy and offer comment/feedback cards to customers. Consider a customer-service contest among the sales staff (who can get the best feedback from customers).

Jerry Jones, District Specialty Retail Manager, CBL & Associates Properties, Inc.

20. Invite customers to touch your products.

The reason shoppers still go to the mall rather than online for the vast majority of their purchases is because they want to feel and try the products before buying them.¬†Put yourself in the shoes of your would-be customer: Does your visual merchandising plan help facilitate product interaction and education? Does it support a selling process or sequence?¬†Are your product samples clean, accessible and presented in an inviting fashion? If you can help shoppers “self-select” through effective merchandising and position your staff as the consultant/product specialist, your sales will benefit.

Greg Guyette, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Kiosko Inc.

21. Prohibit eating at your location.

Customers will steer clear of salespeople who are eating-or sitting on chairs looking bored. If your salespeople don’t look like they want customers to stop to learn more about your products, shoppers might decide they really don’t need your merchandise that badly after all.

Suzanne Cayley, Vice President Specialty Leasing and Partnerships, Ivanhoe Cambridge

22. Plan for the last-minute rush.

The last two weeks prior to Christmas will be your busiest time, when you’ll bring in a significant portion of your holiday sales. If you don’t have enough product to keep up with demand during this time, you’ll be sending your sales to your competitors. You can’t sell the most product possible, if you don’t stock enough product in the first place.¬†Schedule employees to take advantage of the last-minute rush. You will close more sales if you have additional employees working the two busiest weeks of the season.¬†

Mark Klockner, President, Retail Infusion

23. Manage your finances to last the season.

Shoppers are buying later and later every year, making it crucial that you have enough capital on hand to get you through slower sales periods early in the season-or you won’t be around to land those megasales in December. Secure trade credit whenever possible. Take a look at all of your expenses line by line. Are there reoccurring costs you can decrease? A five percent decrease in certain costs can have a huge impact on your profits.

Patricia Norins, Publisher, Specialty Retail Report

Bonus tip: Need trade credit but your new supplier is balking? Check into the Plum Card, a new trade terms card for small business owners from American Express. If you pay at least 10 percent of the balance, you can take up to 60 days to pay in full.

24. Pre-wrap a few best sellers for quick sale.

Attractively pre-wrapped gifts can make great props and help set the holiday mood for your display, in addition to being a handy selling tool. If the pre-wrapped gifts don’t sell, they still served you well as props. And don’t forget: Shoppers spent more than $26 billion on gift cards last year, the majority of which were redeemed between the day after Christmas and the end of January, so don’t make the mistake of thinking your holiday selling season is over the day after Santa visits. Unwrap those pre-wrapped gifts and sell, sell, sell!

Patricia Norins, Publisher, Specialty Retail Report

25. Be an involved and active owner in your business.

If you want the most sales possible, talk to your customers often and listen closely to what they say, so your merchandise will be in sync with their needs and you can spot emerging trends. Spend time training your staff about your products: how to sell and how to take care of your customers. Get their input on sales trends they observe as the season progresses. Ask them what they’re hearing from customers with regard to price, product features, your display or signage-any feedback is good feedback. In the end, the more you’re involved in your business, the more you talk with and listen to your staff and your customers, the better your sales will be.

Anita  L. Saleh, Vice President Specialty Leasing, Taubman

Bonus tip: Price your merchandise according to prevailing economic trends: Be value-oriented while making your customers feel as if they’re doing something special for themselves when they purchase your product.

No matter what your product, no matter where you’re located, there’s no question that if you follow these 25 tips you’ll have a more successful holiday selling season. If you’d like to add your own selling tips to this list, we welcome your input. As this article illustrates, when retailers, leasing managers, visual merchandisers and consultants in our industry share their knowledge and advice, our industry can have a more profitable holiday season. Here’s wishing you your best season ever!

Discovering Your Customers’ Buying Motives

Richard Fenton

Many salespeople assume that their main function is to tell customers about the features and benefits of the products being sold. But the best salespeople know that selling has much more to do with asking questions than listing product features.

Asking questions helps you determine what your customer’s buying motives are, so you can recommend the right type of product to meet (or exceed) the customer’s needs. Recommending merchandise before determining a customer’s buying motives is akin to a doctor writing a prescription before making a diagnosis.

Change perceptions

In addition to discovering which customer wants and needs will compel a purchase, asking questions also has a profound effect on the customer, changing their perception of you from adversary to advisor. Asking questions shows the customer that you care about finding the right product for them-not just any product.

At the beginning of any sale, it’s important that salespeople explain that they need to ask a few questions, and why they’re asking these questions. Usually, this only requires a short to-the-point statement such as, “Let me ask you a few questions so I can help you find the item that’s best for you.”

The best questions are open-ended questions (those that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no”) that focus on lifestyle and personal preferences. Questions about a customer’s likes and dislikes as they relate to the products they’re looking for, as well as how they plan to use the product they’re looking for, are valuable tools in ascertaining buying motives and go a long way toward pinpointing the right product for the customer and closing the sale.

Sample questions

Here are a few examples of good questions to ask. Some might be appropriate for one type of product but not another. Use this list to develop your own personalized questions and work with your staff on how to ask these questions in an inviting way.

  • How will you use the you’re looking for?
  • Of the [similar products] you own, which you do like best and why?
  • What colors or color combinations do you like?
  • What scents appeal to you the most?
  • What’s most important to you when it comes to [the product]?
  • Describe your ideal .
  • If price were no issue, what features would the perfect have?
  • Is there anything else I need to know to help you choose a great ?

Be yourself

As you develop the appropriate questions to ask customers, keep in mind that salespeople who rely exclusively on sales scripts can appear mechanical or stiff. Selling is both an art and a science. The best way to master the skill of selling is to practice the process-the “science” of it-until it becomes an art.

To connect with customers, all salespeople need to incorporate their own personalities into their interactions with customers. Keep this in mind as you learn-then master-how to discover what motivates your customers to buy.

Boost Your Average Ticket! Upselling Do’s and Don’ts

Andrea Waltz

First a word on terminology. Although upselling and add-on selling are often used as interchangeable terms, technically there are differences between the two.

This is upselling:

Showing the customer the better-quality, higher-priced item. Example: a 14K-gold ring vs. a gold-plated ring
Showing the customer a larger or bigger version of the product. Example: a 16 oz. bottle of lotion vs. a 12 oz. bottle

This is add-on selling:
Selling additional merchandise that relates to the initial product being purchased. Example: a handkerchief to go with a tie
Selling the customer more of the same item. Example: a set of three pairs of socks vs. a single pair

Some salespeople mistakenly think that add-on selling and upselling techniques are designed to manipulate customers into buying items they don’t want or need. Like any retail sales technique, add-on selling and upselling can be used to manipulate the customer. But when properly used, these tools can thrill the customer (when they can get a bargain, for example, or a higher-quality product that will serve them better) and enhance the overall shopping experience. If both strategies are used with the customer’s best interests in mind, salespeople can deliver attentive and responsive customer service while landing sales and increasing profits.

One of the biggest mistakes salespeople make is thinking: “If the customer wants something or has a question, they’ll ask.” Not so! This is reactive selling-a strategy that does not drive sales. Nor does it make customers feel like they’re receiving superior customer service.

Plus, in consumer survey after survey, shoppers say they are more likely to purchase additional products if they interact with a knowledgeable sales associate. Salespeople must adopt a proactive approach that involves educating customers, making them aware of product benefits and suggesting additional buying options if they want to make the most sales possible.

Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to add-on selling and upselling:

DO ask questions and share information with customers.

Rather than simply showing the best (or highest-margin) merchandise first, salespeople should begin by asking targeted questions to determine customers’ wants and needs. Asking questions not only helps salespeople determine buying motives, but also will make customers feel understood-and when customers feel understood, they are more inclined to listen to a salesperson explain other buying options, including higher-priced merchandise that might serve the customer better.

DO make sure all salespeople know the upselling and add-on options for each product.

Every salesperson should know what additional products “go with” a certain item for add-on sales, and what the higher-priced options are for upselling. A lack of training in these areas will result in lost sales. Smart salespeople are always eager for opportunities to remind customers about additional purchasing options or to explain why a higher-priced item may make a more suitable purchase.

DO remember that upselling leads to increased satisfaction.

In general, consumers are more satisfied with higher-quality merchandise than they are with “value” merchandise. When sales associates up-sell customers to higher-priced merchandise, retailers not only increase their sales but customer satisfaction as well. Over time, increased customer satisfaction means customer loyalty, repeat business and great word-of-mouth advertising.

DO make a smooth transition to showing additional merchandise.

Examples include: “I’ve got something great to show you,” or “Let’s take a look at

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to go with your new

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,” or “Let me show you the accessories you’ll need to operate and take care of your new .” If the customer is not interested in hearing about add-on merchandise or higher-priced options, that’s fine, but sales associates should never decide not to show a product just because the customer did not bring it up first. Salespeople must take the lead and suggest products and services to their customers.

DO remember that during the holidays, customers are shopping for many people-including themselves!

Once a customer has chosen a product for someone on their holiday shopping list, a simple question such as, “Is there anyone else on your holiday list that would enjoy this too?” or “Would you also like to get one of these for yourself this year?” can increase sales tremendously with very little effort. The Kronos/Harris study mentioned above also revealed that 45 percent of survey respondents said that they also shop for themselves during the holiday season. The more that salespeople can help customers fulfill all of their holiday shopping needs, the better the customer will feel-and the fuller the cash register will be.

DON’T start the upselling process at the register.

Effective upselling should start long before customers reach the cash wrap. Customers appreciate advice and recommendations while they’re shopping, not paying. When customers are at your register, they want a smooth and prompt end to the transaction. In the customer’s mind, upselling at the register demonstrates you care only about selling to them rather than serving them. Upselling at the register is not proactive, customer-focused behavior, it’s simply annoying. And that means that the last feeling that your customer will have before leaving your store will be negative-the opposite of what you’re aiming for.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with limited add-on selling at the register, such as offering, “We also have the batteries you’ll need for your new .” For common items such a batteries, keep in mind that the stock should be at the register, so the customer doesn’t have to wait for the salesperson to retrieve the additional items.

DON’T end the sale by asking a question.

The most popular (and ill-advised) way of ending a sale is by asking, “Would you like anything else today?” This question almost always elicits a curt “No” and brings and abrupt an end to your customer interactions. In fact, salespeople should never be the ones to end the sale. Only the customer should end the sale, and the salesperson shouldn’t beat the customer to the register. The customer will always signal when they are finished shopping.

DON’T assume salespeople can effectively use these strategies without training.

When it comes to maximizing sales, owners and managers tend to say, “We need to increase sales,” but then fail to train their people on how to accomplish that goal. Salespeople need to be taught what upselling and add-on selling is (serving the customer) and what it is not (blindly suggesting more merchandise). Try on-the-floor coaching or role-playing customer interactions to help your salespeople learn the difference, practice their skills and gain some confidence. Your training efforts will be rewarded with increased sales.

Remember, upselling and ad-on selling aren’t just about getting customers to buy more product. These techniques are designed to fulfill customers’ needs, whether those needs are getting a bargain, buying a higher-quality product, or merely having a positive, productive interaction with sales staff. The bottom line benefit is increased sales, but the focus is really on fulfilling customer wants, needs and desires.