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Monday, October 19, 2009

Behind The Retail Scenes & Anticipating The Holidays

Behind the Scenes -- PDX Strobist originally uploaded by Mr. Monroe.
Behind the Scenes -- PDX StrobistContinuing on the subject of Christmas Creep and Retail Trends, I'm intrigued with how retailers are preparing for the holidays - working behind the scenes and anticipating what's to come.

Here's the article that got me thinking: 10 ways to prepare your website for Christmas.

Although it is indeed focused on websites, it holds equally true for the brick and mortar expression of your retail experience, and for integrating your overall experience.

It also holds regardless of how critical the Christmas holiday season is to your retail business.

The article recommends these 9 approaches [yes, the title says 10, but I can only find 9]:

1. Get customers' attention with a freebie
2. Give your SEO a seasonal tweak
3. Have a social media strategy
4. Make sure Santa's cave is full
5. Ramp up your email marketing efforts
6. Can you handle the traffic?
7. Test it out
8. Get a gift certificates program
9. Prepare for the New Year

The first recommendation draws attention to an opportunity all retailers have and that is highlighting value that goes beyond the merchandise. Although customers come into a retail environment [online or in a store] to purchase a product, more often than not that product is part of a bigger picture solution in the buyer's mind. By recognizing that, you are able to offer additional value to a customer. The more value you can create around that product, the more you separate yourself from a commodity and price-based retail experience. Think value in terms of information you can provide around how best to use the product, how to care for it, how to accessorize it...

The second refers to Search Engine Optimization: assuming your retail business relates to the holiday shopping season, do you reflect that seasonality in your website content as well as the website itself? For that matter, are your preparing your store so it reflects holiday appropriate cheer, too? The article recommends searching for yourself to gauge how prepared you are. I recommend looking at your store with a fresh set of customer eyes to ensure that your store is prepared!

This article - Generate Extra Revenue this Holiday Season with These 5 PPC Tips - offers valuable PPC suggestions. The third one "Create a holiday gift finder landing page" struck me as a way to get customer attention and offer value. And, although specific to a website, imagine creating an analog version of a gift finder in your store: showing how products coordinate together, suggesting accessories, or a gift card?

Having a social media strategy should not be limited to the holidays. Quite the opposite! Your social media strategy should be fully integrated into your overall marketing strategy and support customer engagement and relationship building all year round. Did you know that Best Buy launched a Twitter based customer support group called Twelpforce? Per this 10/1/09 AdAge article, Optimistic Best Buy Preps Holiday Marketing Push, Twelpforce has answered 20,000 questions since its launch. Best Buy will be featuring Twelpforce in several brand focused TV spots for the holidays, but you can well imagine that Twelpforce will extend far beyond the holidays.

Inventory seems to be an even greater Bogeyman than usual this holiday season. The Hard Sell lists several approaches that retailers are taking to deal with the combination of troubled economy and increasingly frugal customer. JC Penney is holding back 60% of finished product and fabric inventory in warehouses to better respond to customer demand. Gap identified dye-able fabric for a complex multi-shade denim collection to increase flexibility.

The Hard Sell discusses creative ways that retailers like Container Store, Saks and Neiman Marcus have embraced for 'kicking the discount habit.' Some stores like Sears and Best Buy are expanding into new product categories under the assumption that shoppers want to simplify their shopping and find what they need in fewer stores...

How committed are you to email marketing? Are you gathering email addresses from your customers? And not just online, but also in-store. Definitely capture that information and get into the habit of sending out communications on a regular basis.

Handling traffic: not just online, but also in your store. How's your parking lot situation? Is your store tidy? Laid out in a logical manner? Can customers get through the displays? How clean and welcoming are your bathrooms? Spend time preparing.

How much testing do you do? An amazing aspect of the online world is the ability to do side by side testing [A/B testing] to determine which layout or offer connects with buyers. Have you tried doing the same in-store? What else can you do to prepare and anticipate? Definitely go behind the scenes and make sure you are ready.

Do you have gift card programs in place? How do you promote them? How successful have they been for you?

Finally, are you ready for after the holidays? For the New Year? For Valentine's Day? Do you keep a calendar listing regular upcoming seasonal events and do you plan ahead for them?

Both website and retail store must look fresh and updated to create the best retail experience. How do you go about preparing behind the scenes and anticipating holidays?

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