Two flukes in the calendar this year will challenge retailers when it comes to holiday revenues. Here is some advice from Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak, on how to maximize opportunities during the shorter selling season.
Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. It's hard to believe that September is already here — time for retailers to attend to the holiday shopping season. We at ShopperTrak recommend the following ways to prepare for the coming busy months.
> Maximize opportunities during the shorter selling season.
This year, shoppers will have 26 days and four full weekends to make their holiday purchases between Black Friday and Christmas. In 2012, retailers worked with the longest holiday season possible — 32 days and five full weekends. Retailers must adjust operating hours and staffing this holiday season, or risk missing valuable shopper opportunities. As in the past few years, more stores will be open — and stay open longer — on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28). We expect that retail sales will start strong with November's late Thanksgiving and early Hanukkah (Nov. 27). Hanukkah shoppers will support early season retail sales as they buy gifts throughout November and into early December for the eight-day Festival of Lights. This shopping activity should help to prevent the dip that normally follows Black Friday weekend.
With Christmas falling on a Wednesday, retailers should expect brisk sales the weekend before, on Dec. 21 ("Super Saturday") and Dec. 22. The days following Christmas (Dec. 26-29) will also be strong as consumers rush out to pick up items they didn't find under their trees. Since these key selling days present the chance to delight customers, we recommend retailers pay extra attention to preparations, including promotions, staffing and merchandising.
> Utilize new information within the store to adjust to changing preferences.
For years, brick-and-mortar retailers have wished to better understand how customers shop their stores — much like how they understand users' interactions with their websites. How does the traffic flow through the store? Which endcaps cause shoppers to stop and linger? What impact do interactions with store associates have on conversion? This year, retailers can use new tools in gathering opt-out and anonymous data to answer these questions and improve the shopper experience.
The retail technologies of 2013 can utilize Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to provide more insights into shopper behavior. Using this fact-based, anonymous information, retailers can analyze trends to identify hot spots within their stores and reposition merchandise to promote high-margin items. Retailers can employ in-store analytics to gather a fuller understanding of how sales associates are interacting with shoppers. Once retailers confirm their stores' best practices, they can roll them out across the organization.
> Focus on the shopping experience all year long, not just during the holidays.
Retailers who wait until the holiday season to think about building customer loyalty are too late. Though the holidays may be the busiest time for retail, consumers shop all year. Where they spend their holiday shopping dollars often depends on their previous experiences with the brand. If customers weren't pleased when they last visited the store, drawing them back will prove difficult, no matter how great the holiday promotion.
During last year's holiday season, we saw one of the first increases in foot traffic in many years. With shoppers feeling more secure about the economy, they visited more stores. This trend has continued through most of 2013, with many months posting traffic increases compared with 2012. We've recently seen an increase in consumer confidence to its highest level since before the recession. Counting and analyzing foot traffic information in each store will help retailers react more quickly and plan more efficiently for these changes in shopper behavior — ultimately, improving the shopping experience.
Retailers, it's never too early to prepare for the holidays. This year, managing to the calendar shifts and continued focus on providing a good experience will be your store's secret to success. Create a satisfying shopping experience for customers this holiday season and they are likely to return all year long.
This year, shoppers will have 26 days and four full weekends for shopping between Black Friday and Christmas, compared with 32 days and five weekends last year. Retailers must adjust operating hours and staffing to maximize opportunities during the shorter selling season.
Bill Martin is the founder of ShopperTrak, a leading retail technology company that anonymously counts people, analyzes data and identifies opportunities to increase revenue for retailers, mall developers and entertainment venues (shoppertrak.com).