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To help retailers prepare for the 2017 holiday season, we have outlined key ingredients for a successful holiday season. And the holidays are starting earlier this year, according to NRF, more than half of holiday shoppers start to research and plan their gifts in October or earlier. So start planning now!

As a retailer, this is undoubtedly your busiest time of the year, so keeping your game on point can have some real rewards. Failing to prepare appropriately, however, can have long term consequences, whether it’s disappointed customers or missed revenue. Here is the essential retail checklist to ensure you’re ready for a successful holiday season (and beyond).

Sell Like Hot Cakes

Last year’s hottest holiday must-haves, may be this year’s slowest moving products. The nature of retail involves high-turnover, fading trends, and shifting consumer behaviors. Forecasting what is going to sell well and identifying your slower moving inventory is essential to a successful holiday season.  

With a robust business management software you can maintain and store historical data week over week, month over month, and year over year to benchmark your progress and better understand the factors contributing to the growth of your operation. The more data you collect the easier it is to identify trends and inconsistencies.

Understanding sales data lets you know what items are the most popular with your customers, what you may need to work on an upsell strategy for, or what you may need to discontinue from your product line-up.

In addition to forecasting, you should have a backup plan. Say this year’s hot item sells out within the first week of the holiday shopping season. That’s great news, but what’s your game plan for the rest of the season? Do customers still have the same incentive to shop at your establishment once that’s gone? Ensuring that you have alternatives ready to draw continuous traffic and help your business make a lasting impression through the season is necessary for success.

Assemble Your Holiday Workforce

Recruiting and staffing employees for the holidays can be overwhelming. It is important to start early, by asking who of your full-time employees will likely be supporting the holiday season, and where you need additional support. Depending on the size of your regular staff and your industry, this could be anywhere from 50-100% more staff than usual.

You want to allow for ample time to train your seasonal staff for the busiest days of the year. And once you have an idea of who from your full-time team will be available for the holidays and forecasted how many seasonal staff you need, based on last years data, you can focus on seasonal recruiting. To build your seasonal team, you can reach out to college students who have returned home from the holidays, temp agencies, and place postings on the major job sites.

Allow enough time to train your new hires, familiarize themselves with your establishment layout and processes, and then give them the opportunity to work on the sales floor before the rush begins.  Waiting for the rushes to finish your new hire training is a guaranteed way to frustrate your team and gamble with subpar customer service, despite positive intent.

Get The Holiday Look

Start by planning your window display. To stand out from the crowd and influence your foot traffic: showcase your products in an interesting and eye-catching way, incorporate digital signage to heighten the visual experience, or deploy creative marketing strategies to catch the eye of passer byers.

For example, in 2006, Apple used a sticker to make their window display look like shattered glass to promote the iPad Hi-Fi speaker system.

The holidays bring up tangible feelings of nostalgia, family, love, and giving. Replicate these feelings in your store, by drawing lights across the store, having holiday-themed decorations, picking out the perfect place, and even deploying pleasant winter time aromas. This will make your customers feel the most at home, and give them the full-sensory shopping experience. This is important because Square Root showed that 65% of shoppers turn to stores for their holiday shopping so they can feel, touch, and see products before they purchase.

It’s not just that the store should look and feel the right way, but your products should be displayed to optimize sales and the customer experience. Add-ons and incremental sales are the true secret to having a winning holiday season. If you ever need examples of great merchandising, look no further than your local grocery store. Whether it’s displaying all the ingredients for pumpkin pie in one place or basters and twine within eyeshot of the turkeys, grocery stores stay one step ahead of shoppers in identifying what else the shopper will need to execute a fantastic holiday meal.

See Also: Simple Store Layout Tricks That Will Boost Sales

Crack The CRM Code

Retailers can leverage Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to increase holiday sales and maintain the holiday momentum into the new year—making CRM the gift that keeps on giving. Quality data is the best ally in understanding consumers and arming businesses with the information needed to anticipate their needs. By having a snapshot of your customer’s profile and buying habits, you can personalize your offerings and engage with your customers beyond the store. You can email them promos that relate to their past purchases and encourage them to follow and engage with you on social media.

Translate these customer insights into discounts or loyalty programs, and upsell based on customers’ preferences. Treat your most valuable customers to discounts or promotions, and send targeted marketing campaigns to connect with last year’s big holiday shoppers.

By taking the time to ensure that you’re utilizing all of the essential tools available to retailers to have a successful holiday season, you’ll be better prepared to create a lasting, positive impression.

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