How to Win the


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A retail leader’s guide for getting stores and frontline staff ready to thrive during the most profitable time of year.

The holiday season is like the Big Game for retail—high stakes with the potential for big winners and losers.

The holiday season is like the
Big Game for retail
—high stakes with the potential
for big winners and losers.

Up to 30 percent of annual sales happen in November and December.

There are 10 really critical shopping days during the holiday stretch that can effectively make or break your year.

But we don’t need to tell you this is the most important season for retail—you’ve been planning for months. The question is, are you really ready? Here are 5 surefire ways to help make this holiday season a smashing success.


Your Halls

In-store marketing and visual merchandising

From your windows and entrance table, to your end caps and queue line, getting the right holiday feel takes months of planning and keen attention to detail. A 2019 report by ServiceChannel found that 95% of consumers consider a store’s exterior appearance an important factor when deciding upon a place to shop, and more than half will avoid a store if the exterior appears to be poorly maintained. The holidays are a great chance to amp up your ambience and tap into the holiday shopper’s sweet spot.

Upping the “wow” factor of your windows with a distinct holiday look and feel is a great start, but you can also use this real estate to showcase products that are great for gifting at multiple

price points. Think displaying $25, $50, $100 items for him, for her and for them. Many shoppers also arrive in store with the dollar amounts they are prepared to spend in mind. You can make it easier to catch their eye with the right gift at the right price for the right person. Also, remember that while people are in your store to spend on others at this time of year, it’s quite common for shoppers to treat themselves to a little something during the lead-up to the holidays. Great windows draw gift-buying consumers to your store, while giving your staff an opportunity to add items for others—including the shopper.

Drive up your Average Daily Transactions

Strategically place easy-to-grab items within 10 feet of the door to grab the customer's attention and influence their purchasing decision. Price point is key here. Use a table display or tower to stock smaller, affordable items and set a ‘2 or 3 for $’ pricing strategy. These items should have wide appeal and be easy to restock throughout the day.

Beyond the entry offer, make sure your end caps include curated assortments that tie back to the look and feel of the windows, but expand to showcase other giftable options. Remember to use in-store signage to clearly communicate price. And don’t forget the captive audience you have in your queue lines. You can drive up units sold by showcasing must-have holiday items they can add to their cart while they wait for their turn to pay.

Make impulse buys
a no-brainer

Putting staff favorites or add-on
items at the cash and placing gift
cards strategically throughout
the store can drive impulse buys
or capture sales from a customer
who didn’t find what they
were looking for.


Jingle Bell

Product replenishment

There’s nothing more disappointing than going to a store you know carries a particular item, only to find they are out of stock. Now add in the pressures of the holidays, where full calendars and last-minute shopping are the norm, and you have the potential to create the kind of negative customer experience that lingers—and costs you in the long run.

It turns out as many as 1-in-3 retail shopping trips result in out-of-stocks, costing North American retailers $144.9 billion. There are a couple of key things you can do to keep your store out of this money-losing club:

  • Use past seasons and recent sales data to go deep on key styles. Take the top 10% of sellers and become hyper-vigilant on inventory management and replenishment.
  • Ensuring your stock never runs out may mean having temporary warehouses or storage units closer to your high-volume stores to get the key products there quicker. Or, it may require having a more robust supply chain network with predictive modeling to proactively ship stores product before they even realize they need it.
  • If your store is in a mall, contact your mall partner to ask about vacant spaces or locations for temporary pods.

Pick a path that allows you to always have the best products available, at a cost that makes sense for your business. Having top items in stock builds trust with consumers and makes sure those dollars stay out of your competition’s hands. Once they go to a competitor, future dollars may never come back, and that’s a significant opportunity cost.


Don’t give your customers a reason to shop online

In a report from IHL Group, researchers found that upwards of 24% of Amazon’s current retail revenue comes from customers who first tried to buy the product in-store. There are many reasons why a customer would choose to visit a store rather than shop online. Whether they need something immediately, want to touch and feel an item before purchasing, or don’t like to pay for shipping, don’t make shoppers regret their decision with an out-of-stock product.


Baby, It's
Sold Inside

Pricing and promotions

Smart operations leaders figure out their pricing strategy through the use of artificial intelligence and sales data. That’s how they know their sell-through percentages are going to be awesome. So why do so many retailers sabotage their own success during the holidays by making their stores a jumble of pricing and promotions that are confusing and hard to interpret?

You’ve seen it before—a mix of price points and % off signs sprinkled throughout a store. Or worse, different types of promotions running in different sections: 20% off handbags. 2 for $20 on winter gloves. Buy 3 save 10%, Buy 4 save 15%, Buy 5 save 20%.

With so many promotions and options to compare at this time of year, it’s critical to choose a simple and consistent approach that your staff—and more importantly your customers—can understand. Limit the variation of promotions inside your store to an overarching promotion or at least stick to clean and simple department offers.

Clear messages move buying from OR to AND

It’s possible to run an overarching store promotion like, 25% off all purchases over $100, and keep price point and department promotions underneath. Just keep in mind that mixed messaging between departments, along with complex % off promotions, may force consumers into a this OR that debate when what you really want to encourage is this AND that buying.


O Come, All
Ye Newbies

Get creative with seasonal hiring

While seasonal hiring takes some of the burden off your local teams, it can be stressful. Be open to new approaches to make this process less daunting. Consider allowing applications through text message or conducting group interviews to save time. Or, offer a streamlined interview process with the option of interview and offer done in the same day.

Here for a good time, not a long time

It’s inevitable that new hires are coming to fill your holiday staffing gaps. Last year alone, retailers hired more than 625,000 seasonal associates. So, it's wise to start planning the onboarding experience early. Time is not on your side here. You don’t have the luxury of giving seasonal hires the same onboarding experience as full-time employees. Instead, plan an onboarding experience that only gives associates the critical information they need to hit the floor fast and do their jobs well from day

one. Teach holiday hires your brand story, customer service expectations, key product/technology differentiators and promotions—essentially, the things they need to know to make sure your stores look their best and your customers receive friendly, efficient service during this hectic time of year. If a seasonal hire turns into a long-term employee, that’s when you can go deeper into the weeds on products, technologies and company policies.

Hiring and onboarding

With so much riding on the holiday season, nailing your visual merchandising and product replenishment is vital. But, outward appearance won’t be enough to entice consumers if you don’t have the right amount of staff on hand to ensure a pleasant shopping experience. No one wants to wait for an hour in a crazy line that snakes through departments to make a purchase, so make sure you’re staffing to optimize the customer experience.


Let Them

Let Them

Let Them

Communication and training

You and your team have done a great job staffing and scheduling, so your expected coverage looks good. Next, it’s important to ensure your frontline associates are set up to perform their best—whether it’s their first retail job or they’re a seasoned vet coming over from one of your competitors. People have plenty of options in a tight labor market and a positive experience, even if only lasts a few weeks or months, can turn a seasonal employee into your next retail leader. Here are some ways to give associates the modern experience they crave.

Avoid the broken telephone

You shouldn't have to rely on your store leadership to communicate all the things associates need to know to be successful during the holiday season. Instead, use a digital platform to communicate messages from the store manager and deliver daily doses of key product, promotional and customer service standards to make them as productive as possible. It’s easier than you may think and can take a lot of pressure off of your retail leaders.

Meet them where they are

The stakes of your entire season rest in the hands of diverse and dispersed associates who can only be reached by personal emails or cell phones. Reaching them with consistent communications that keep everyone on the same page and ongoing training that adapts with them based on where they’re excelling and where they need some extra help is key. Seek out channels with the lowest friction for distributing information and learning, like their own personal mobile devices, in-store POS systems, kiosks, or any Wi-Fi connected device in the back of the store.

It’s the Least Wonderful
Time of the Year

Getting ready for returns

If you had a great holiday, your store will continue to see strong traffic in January for a far less positive reason: the unavoidable returns. As much as you dislike them, it’s important to have a plan to handle returns properly.

Returns bring logistical challenges. Can you resell the product in your store, online or at all? Can you donate it or find another use for it? It’s important to ensure your return experience is seamless and painless. Counter intuitive as it may be, a pleasant return experience will bring customers back to you next time they’re ready to purchase. Since returns are bringing customers back in-store, you can also try to capture whatever small portion of sales possible during this time by keeping holiday offers running or add new enticing promotions.


Happy Holidays (and beyond)

Despite working tirelessly to make your store a top holiday shopping destination, your efforts can be undermined in an instant if your associates, both seasoned and seasonal, aren’t engaged and ready to deliver amazing customer experiences. Get tips on improving employee experience all year round.