They say Christmas starts earlier every year. Almost as soon as Halloween finishes, the shops become festooned with Christmas decorations, Quality Street boxes, and whole aisles devoted exclusively to bath sets and reindeer socks.
If you own a retail business, Christmas probably starts even earlier than that for you! According to a recent Facebook survey, one in five shoppers start buying their presents in September and October. So making sure your store is ready for them is very important.
Here are a few tips on what you can start doing now to get ready for the Christmas rush:
#1 Learn from last year
Past experience is an invaluable resource. So if you were trading last Christmas, you should already have a good idea of what to expect this year. Armed with this information, you should be able to put together an accurate forecast for demand and sales.
If you have historical stock records, have a look to see what happened to your inventory levels in the run-up to last Christmas. Did you run out of a particular item too soon? If you think there’s a good chance that same product will be as popular this year, make sure you have a surplus!
Were you and your staff overloaded with work last year, meaning you had to turn customers away or fell below your ideal service levels? You might need to employ an extra member of staff this time to keep you ahead.
#2 Make sure you’re stocked up
You don’t need us to tell you how delicate inventory management can be! Locking up too much of your capital in stock can have serious implications for your cash flow. But at the same time, running out of a popular product can have a serious effect on your sales and your reputation.
Follow the suggestion in our previous tip and plan what stock you think you’ll need based on last year’s performance. Just don’t forget to keep up-to-date with the latest trends and buying habits – what was popular last year might not be as popular this year.
Order your stock in plenty of time so it’s ready to go in time for the Christmas rush as well as the early birds who get their shopping done well in advance.
To help you plan what stock you may need, have a read of this guide about open-to-buy plans.
#3 Ask yourself if you need extra staff
There’s nothing worse than having the customers and the stock, but not enough staff to manage them all quickly enough. Either you’ll end up turning customers away, or you’ll put them off from coming back next year.
You probably already have a good handle on your staffing needs during most of the year, but all bets are off for Christmas – depending on what you sell, it’s likely to be your busiest period by far.
Again, use your experience from last year to gauge what you might need for this year. If you’re hands-off the shop floor, talk to any existing staff who were around last year. Did they think they could’ve done with a few extra hands?
Just be wary of overleveraging yourself. You don’t want to end up losing too much of your profits by investing in staff you could realistically get by without.
#4 Launch a marketing campaign
All being well, your store should already benefit from a healthy boost in customers during the Christmas ramp-up. But that doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels. Consider maximising your results by launching a targeted marketing campaign.
If you’re got a database of customers’ email address, think about producing a Christmas themed newsletter – with an attractive discount or promotion to go along with it. If you’ve built up a following on social media, a festive competition could be a good way to boost your store’s profile.
#5 Don’t start too early!
Planning in advance and being ahead of the curve is good, but there’s a balance to be struck. You don’t want to launch your Christmas promotions too early because – let’s be frank – people tend not to like that! There’s also a risk that those promotions might go stale if they’re around for too long.
Generally speaking, you should make sure you’re ready for the early shoppers by around September time – but hold off on launching any specific Christmas promotions or messages until the other side of Halloween.
#6 Offer a gift-wrapping service
I don’t know about you but I absolutely hate wrapping presents, and it’s likely many of your customers do too. So it’s a good idea to offer a gift-wrapping service in the run-up to Christmas for a small additional charge. As well as earning you a bit of extra margin on each sale, it might also give you the edge compared to your competitors.
Just make sure it doesn’t become too much for you and your staff to handle. If your shop’s heaving with impatient customers and all your staff are busy buried in wrapping paper, you might end up scoring an own goal.
#7 Be inclusive
It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement surrounding Christmas, but you should stay mindful of the fact that not everyone celebrates it. Be careful not to exclude your Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish or non-religious customers, particularly if they make up a large percentage of your local population.
#8 Do you need additional funds?
Preparing for Christmas involves a lot of planning, hard work and, yes, cash! If you need a boost in cash flow to make sure your store’s ready for the festive period, consider an unsecured business loan from Boost Capital.