The title of this post may suggest that most retailers aren’t already in the thick of planning, but from working with a lot of retail clients, I know better. Those plans may not be complete yet (are they ever?), but you’ve started to map out how you’re going to execute on great year-over-year growth, produce record levels of sales and keep newly acquired customers coming back in the new year.
Since the holidays can see as much as 40% of your yearly sales happen in just a few weeks, if you get it wrong, it can be catastrophic. But if you get it right? Champagne and promotions.
So how do you set yourself up for success? Here are a few thoughts after seeing years of holiday seasons and hundreds of retailers do it right:
1. Leverage all of your customer data from this year and last.
You have tons of behavioral information waiting for you to take advantage of: customer profiles, history of what they’ve bought, what they’ve browsed, and what they’ve returned or abandoned. Leverage all of it. Use this data to predict what’s going to be hot this year, execute the sales techniques and specific promotions that have worked the best all year long, and target specific groups of customers – like your high value customers, your most loyal or your newest – to personalize and deliver the right messages to them all season long. Leverage scarcity of product or exclusivity of sales targeted at those groups to generate the frenzy you want, and avoid the disappointment of running out of the top sellers.
Also, take a look at last year’s data to figure out who shopped then and who was high value at holiday, and make sure to specifically target those customers again this year. Our clients find entire segments of customers that buy only at holiday, so take advantage and tailor messaging just for them.
2. Analyze in real time – and be ready with backup plans.
You know there’s a quote about the best-laid plans, and the holiday season is no different. You might have most of it mapped out just right, but something will always surprise you. The holiday season is not a time to be on “set it and forget it” mode; it’s a time to be looking at the data constantly and be ready with backup campaigns, messaging and strategies that can handle the inevitable surprise that comes during the flood of seasonal traffic.
If you’re ready for it, and looking for it, then you can take advantage and either cover gaps for strategies that didn’t work, or take advantage of surprise trends you see emerge – products selling better or worse than expected, reactions to shipping or discount promotions, or categories getting more browsing behavior than expected. With that much behavioral data flowing in all at once, everything seems to move a lot faster, so you have to react to the trends and needs of your customers a lot faster. Plan for it and you can win big.
3. Stay focused and act fast after the holidays, too.
Once that last shipping day before Christmas hits, you’ll be kicking back with some adult eggnog and relaxing into the new year, right? But here’s the thing: You’ll have so much more customer insight and data to benefit from post-holiday, making January a treasure trove of opportunity that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Products that didn’t sell as well? Promo time. Campaigns that were super hot? Capitalize on the trend. Customers who were really active but just didn’t buy? Keep them intrigued and give them just the right recommendations and deals to react to based on their previous interactions. There are dozens of ways to take advantage of shopper insights right after the holiday, and planning for it while everyone in your organization is focused and working hard is just the right time to do it. Then you can react fast (maybe faster than your competition) right after the holidays.
4. Prioritize new customer retention strategies post-holiday.
Now that you’ve acquired a bunch of new customers – and the behavioral marketing data to tell you what to do for them – you have to immediately strike while the iron’s hot. Be sure they get the right campaigns and follow-ups to make them repeat customers, such as sales mop-ups, loyalty campaigns or back-in-stock notifications for those who browsed items that were sold out in December.
If you have your retention strategies laid out and start executing right away on all of the new customers you’ve just acquired, your next year will be that much brighter.
A friend in retail once told me the holidays are awesome for everyone not in retail. But if you have to work extra hard while others are taking all that time off, you might as well make it productive. Follow these strategies (and consider a few of these strategies, too) for a fantastic season and even better results … and then take a much-deserved vacation in February.