Are you thinking of Christmas yet? As a retailer you should be, with Christmas and summer peak trade on the horizon. Customers have become savvier than ever – and the retail market crowded and noisy – meaning shoppers are good at filtering out the things they don’t want to hear. That can make communication to your customers tricky, but with peak periods making up around 36% of a retailer’s annual profit, it is important that retailers make this season count.

To make sure your trade is bigger, better and more profitable this Christmas (and during peak periods in general), I’ve put together a few points for all of the retailers out there looking to get ahead:

PLAN – This is something I can’t stress enough! If you haven’t already started planning for Christmas – get to it, because you’re already behind. The first step to successfully planning is looking at what worked and what didn’t for your business last season. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and work out a plan that ensures you’re bringing the things that worked into this season, and that you’re improving on those that didn’t. Retailing is an extremely competitive landscape and you need to take notice of what works for you in order to stay ahead.

BUILD YOUR LIST NOW – It is important that you build a list of loyal customers throughout the year – nurturing them along until they are ready to buy. A customer who is given value during the year will be 85% more likely to choose you in peak periods – especially at Christmas, when competition is fierce. Customers are wary about giving their out private details these days, an email address or mobile number is as private to a customer as their physical home address, so you need to give them a reason to share that information. That can be a giveaway, special discount coupon, a points reward system, a birthday voucher etc. Try to think outside the box and consider asking your suppliers for giveaways/extra discounts and so forth so these value-adding items don’t come out of your annual budget. Suppliers, I found in my retail business, were more than willing to help, after all it’s more brand awareness for them too! PS – if you do get a customer’s details (email or mobile) treat it like gold and NEVER onforward it to another business or spam them with information they don’t need or won’t appreciate it – always provide VALUE.

MARKETING – having a marketing strategy in place long before the pressure mounts ensures crucial steps aren’t missed. It also ensures your messages are going directly to your customers. I used to schedule all my social media posts for the whole of December well in advance to elevate my own pressure. I still posted when I had time but always knew that there were two posts already scheduled that day – some days this was a real blessing!

Make sure you set yourself a marketing budget for the Christmas/peak period too – and stick to it! Plan print media, paid website and social media campaigns and make sure you know the return expected from those investments. Extra special hint – some of my most successful marketing campaigns were done in conjunction with other businesses (not competitors) who I aligned myself with – we hosted some of the best “how do I get invited” VIP nights our regional centre had ever seen. Best of all, all the marketing costs and hard ground work was shared – win/win! Who could you align with?

SPOT THE TREND – trends rapidly change and evolve, so it’s important that you’re constantly doing your research and staying ahead of the game. When researching – and before you even think about stocking any form of product – it’s important that what you’re considering fits with your brand and your expertise. Also, ensure that it’s in your customer’s budget because they wont buy something they can’t afford. Check with your stockist that you’re able to get products in time – not before the trend and not after, and check that you can re-order. And most importantly, think about whether or not the product is something your customers are actually going to want.

GET THE RIGHT STAFF – NOW – your staff are your most important asset no matter the time of year. It’s important that you’re hiring staff that are the right fit for your business – after all, they are the first point of contact with your customers. Staff are in charge of first impressions, which is something you only get one shot at. Ensure you get it right, by investing in your staff and training them well.

When hiring new staff, it’s important that you look for someone who fits in with the existing culture of your business (providing that culture is what you want it to be!). My moto is hire for attitude, train for skill. You can always teach someone your systems and processes but if they don’t have the right attitude or a trainable attitude, then it can make life exhausting as the business owner. Start looking early, all the good ones go first! When peak season hits, the last thing you want is untrained, unsettled or even worse, staff with bad attitudes – it WILL affect your sales figures, that I can guarantee.

Jenn Donovan knows a thing or two about the retail industry. Not only has she experienced great success in her very own small retail business – Jenn also successfully runs a company named Inspiring Retail, which educates, connects and inspires small business within the retail industry.

Whether your retail business is online or offline, new or established, Jenn’s first-hand retail experience and knowledge will help you get the competitive edge your business needs. To find out more, come along to her local session in Wagga Wagga, at the Quest Apartments, Tuesday 31st October from 5.30 pm or contact Jenn at jenn@inspiringretail.com.au or 0428 32 4149.