4 Ways to Boost Holiday Sales

By Barbara Findlay SchenckBusiness on Main

Don’t let the holiday retail forecast stop your business from performing strongly this season. Small-business coach Larry Galler shares tips for beating the 2011 projections.

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Last year’s round-up of holiday sales forecasts led me to the headline, “Not Bleak, but Not Bling.” This year’s projections sound more like the children’s book title “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”

From the National Retail Federation to the Retail TouchPoints 2011 Holiday Outlook report, forecasts range from “optimism” to “an uptick, with some warnings” to “a murky outlook” threatened by “headwinds” from gas prices, unemployment and economic conditions.

“But that’s the macro view,” says Larry Galler, a former six-outlet retail chain owner and a self-described small-business greatness coach. “Small retailers plan around the macroeconomic outlook,” he says, “but their success is affected more by local competition and conditions in their micro-environments.”

Write your own holiday forecast

“General trends are but one factor in small-business success,” Galler says. More important is whether your niche is expanding or contracting — whether your business fits well in its marketplace, whether sales to date are up or down compared to last year. “Be cognizant of your own business trends and know what is and isn’t moving,” he says. The knowledge can guide adjustments for a stronger holiday season.

Beat your own projections

“By now, small businesses have planned holiday inventory and staffing,” Galler says. From here on out, it’s about fine-tuning, for which he gives this advice:

- Adjust displays, pricing and promotions to drive sales. If certain products are apt to sell out early, move them to secondary positions and give premier attention to slower sellers, especially those that will be harder to move after the holidays.

- Cater to screen-connected customers. With 60 percent of customers likely to research products online, experts term this “the year of mobile.” Make sure your website is findable, that it looks good on mobile screens, and that it presents compelling information, one-click calling and clear arrival directions. Also be sure your business shines on review sites by inviting loyal customers to post praise that strengthens ratings and overshadows less favorable posts.

- Deepen customer relationships. Even with today’s hyper-focus on price, customer intelligence firm Motista says consumers are four times more likely to shop at retailers where they feel emotional connections.

“Deepen relationships by specializing services, building trust in your expertise, and developing customer reliance on the convenience and offerings of your business,” Galler suggests. He mentions the success of retailers who contact customers with lists of last year’s gift purchases to aid this year’s planning, or ones that reach out with customized shopping advice, such as, “For your grandkids’ gifts, here are our five top-sellers.”

4 approaches to year-end success

Galler says there are only four marketing activities, and that you need to activate the full list for holiday success.

1. Attract new customers. Add customers as quickly as possible in order to establish relationships you can optimize over the holiday season.“This is step No. 1 to business success,” Galler says, “and it requires reaching out with offers that can break the habit of where or how customers are currently buying.”

2. Convert new customers to repeat customers, prompting them to return as frequently as would be realistic. “Reinforce their decision to shop at your store with bag-stuffers, next-purchase discounts, follow-up communications, service add-ons and ongoing interactions that help them alter previous shopping habits,” Galler says.

3. Make larger and more frequent sales. Small retailers know who is shopping and how often and how much they’re buying, Galler says. Use that knowledge to set goals for key customers, both to increase sales and to ease their holiday shopping experience.

4. Draw departed customers back to your business. Reach out to lapsed customers with greetings, gift ideas, offers and invitations to let your business make their holidays easier and more enjoyable.

The reward for your effort is a stronger finish to your year, which, by the way, the macro outlook predicts. According to Retail TouchPoints, “Economic uncertainty aside, industry experts predict an increase in overall sales for the holiday 2011 season.” On that closing note may your holidays be merry … and may your season be profitable.

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