Top Five Tips for Taking Action Against Predicted Traffic Declines

By Shelley E. Kohan,

Thanksgiving is drawing near, and with the official start of the holiday now beginning on Thursday (as some retailers will open on Thanksgiving Day), it’s time to talk about the “Giant Turkey” in the room for physical retail stores.

Key indicators are showing a slow start to the 2013 holiday season. RetailNext, an in-store analytics provider, conducted a recent study for the first half of November analyzing various retailers — more than nine million shopping trips nationwide, within 450 stores — and their store performance metrics. Preliminary numbers on shopper traffic in physical retail stores demonstrated a 4.8% decline compared to 2012. Traffic was down and will continue to be down as the number of shopping visits will be fewer this year. This is true for three main reasons:

1. Customers are being offered additional channels to purchase from on a variety of devices which results in more products being secured in the digital world;

2. Six fewer days of shopping will, itself, mean fewer shopping visits to stores; and

3. The pervasiveness of smart phones gives customers the ability to cross-channel shop and price check at the swipe of a screen.

The real story is that there are fewer shopping days and no indications that customers are shopping early — even though retailers attempted to get a jump-start in early November. Brick-and-mortar stores have made an effort to battle the fewer days by changing their store hours, but this isn’t enough. They must also extend the staff coverage for an extra week prior to the holiday sales kicking into the mix.

RetailNext’s study for the first half of November also found that the sales-per-shopper was up 1.5%, which can largely be attributed to a higher average transaction value (ATV). The ATV was up 4% for the month of November, which can be attributed to more sales at regular price, less promotion (at least for now), and perhaps a better shopping interaction between selling staff and customers. But even with the sales-per-shopper up, there is a gap between the uptick in sales-per-shopper and overall traffic decline, which can negatively impact the top line growth.

Understanding this gap is a key component going into December as retailers are pressured with a compressed holiday selling calendar. Below are the top five tips on how traditional brick-and-mortar retailers can take action against this year’s predicted traffic declines (and some quick reminders from 2012):

1. Improve Customer Interaction and Personalization Strategies
There is less traffic this year; therefore, make each customer interaction count. Drive up the ATV to make up for the drop in traffic. Focus on selling techniques that engage the customer. Customers want in-store experiences that are fun, inspirational and PERSONALIZED.

2. Offer Targeted Promotional Programs
Offer early bounce back programs that invite the customers shopping now (and on Thanksgiving weekend) to come back to the store for a special offer. Or better yet, provide an incentive for the customer to bring a friend back to the store.

3. Tweet, Tweet, Tweet
Utilize social media as a tool to send regular messages that “speak” about offers, promotions, and even gift suggestions. 76% of smart phone owners will be using their mobile device for holiday shopping and will be surfing the web alongside social media networks to find the latest deals and product updates. Compel them to come to the store through social media or stay longer while in the store.

4. Implement an Opt-In Service
Engage customers through an opt-in service on mobile devices. Offer your customers personalized messages, offers, and service. According to, “While 89% of consumers want some sort of personalized mobile communications from brands and retailers while in-store, only 18% see personalization from retailers and brands.” This creates a deeper relationship with the customer and can improve your loyalty program customer base by a significant amount.
5. Have A “BOLPUS” Strategy
Most retailers are figuring this out already, so make sure to have a strategy for shoppers to “buy on line” and then be able to “pick up in store” which is commonly referred to as B.O.L.P.U.S. This is a great opportunity to up-sell and provide a great “interaction” point.

Quick reminders from last year’s 2012 holiday:

  • Black Friday Traffic was down almost 6% (compared to 2011)
  • 28% of traffic on Black Friday is in the store 1p.m.-3p.m.
  • 48% of sales take place 11am-3pm (10% is from 12p.m.-1p.m. Peak Hour)
  • Retailers open on Thanksgiving Day did not see incremental sales for the holiday weekend but instead a spread of sales over more days

In 2012 the early weekends in November seemed to escape higher conversion metrics, and in 2013 this remains a continuous challenge for retailers. Specifically, the first three Saturdays and Sundays this November showed a drop in conversion of .6%. Sunday continued to be the best opportunity for most retailers. A focus for stores on the customer interaction point and sales associates ability to deliver personalized service at a variety levels can positively impact both sales and the customer experience.

Good luck! The Thanksgiving holiday is about to “officially” start!

Retail expert Shelley E. Kohan has more than 20 years of experience in retail store operations and is the VP of consulting for RetailNext, an in-store analytics provider. Her contributions across the industry include profit and sales improvement, applied big data in the brick-and-mortar environment, and enhancing in-store shopping experiences. She is also an instructor at the Fashion Institute of Technology of the State University of New York, in the Fashion Merchandising Management Program at the Jay and Patty Baker School of Business &Technology. She can be reached at or

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