5 Mistakes that Doom Holiday Retail Sales

Frustrated shoppers will take their money elsewhere, so take steps now to avoid these common retail fails.
Start planning now to assure a profitable holiday retail season. (Photo: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock)

Retail sales are expected to increase 3.6 percent over last year. When it comes to grabbing your share, more important than what your website looks like or whether you have the hottest new gizmo is this: You must wow your customers.

To do so, avoid the five most common mistakes retailers make during the holidays. Bob Phibbs, an international business strategist based in New York, aka The Retail Doctor, believes most of these mistakes involve employees.

With a little advance planning you can dodge the dangers and boost sales come Black Friday and beyond.

Mistake 1: Not hiring enough help

Phibbs said that not only do many retailers fail to hire enough help, they compound the mistake by forgetting who their seasonal workers are or why they are there.

The reality is that holiday workers are “there for money,” Phibbs said. “The good ones have another job, so don’t expect them to work any and all hours. They’re only going to be available when they tell you, so don’t get mad at them for not being able to come in at the last minute.”

They’re also prone to holiday burnout just as shoppers are. Emily Tanner, assistant professor of marketing at West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics, advised, “Remember that employees are exhausted getting ready for the holidays too. Exhaustion does not yield good customer service.”

Hire more people than you think you need, said Phibbs, “and let people off quicker.”

Take other steps to keep employee morale up, too. “Go the extra mile for them [so] they’ll be more likely to go the extra mile for your customers,” said Tanner.

Mistake 2: Not properly training seasonal staffers

You can’t expect seasonal employee to provide exceptional customer service unless you train and enable them to.

“One of the biggest mistakes you make is you hire people, give them minimal training, then get mad at them for not being like someone who’s worked for you for a year,” said Phibbs.

For instance, it’s crucial to “teach everybody how to greet customers and how to thank them for coming in.”

Also make the ground rules clear. “You set the bar immediately, setting limits and defining what is and isn’t acceptable,” Phibbs said. Doing so helps employees to know, for instance, they can’t call off work because they were invited to a holiday party.

Mistake 3: Not scheduling for the rush

Everyone is busy during the holidays, so “people generally want shopping experiences that are quick and easy,” noted Tanner.

“We won’t put up with two people on the sales floor and you expect us to wait,” Phibbs said, adding that even a line one person deep can be detrimental to sales. “Without enough staff to be cordial and make time stand still, they will be tapping their foot even if only one person is in front of them,” he said.

So add more staffers at peak periods. “You schedule for the rush,” Phibbs said. “You don’t make a schedule based on who’s available when.”

Mistake 4: Letting customers dart out the door

Yes, some people know what they want and once they grab it they want to pay and go. But staffers should try to keep other customers in the store for as long as possible.

“You want a customer to lose track of time in your store, and that means you have to have employees encourage them to buy,” he said.

It isn’t enough to ask customers what their budget is or if you can help them find something, said Phibbs. Employees should also ask who else is on their gift list. If that person is Aunt Agnes the coffee connoisseur, they should make a determined effort to find something she will like.

“Customers don’t want to keep going other places,” said Phibbs. If they’ve selected one gift in your store, chances are they will choose another one — but only if your sales staff tells them what they want.

The problem, he said, is that this mindset “goes against an untrained, younger workforce.” Anyone under thirty thinks, “I see it. I want it. I’m done.” And that attitude in a sales staff member “could be deadly,” said Phibbs.

Coach millennials and all other sales staff in the art of upselling.

Not keeping the shelves stocked and the store tidy

Keeping “the shelves stocked and the store nice” is vital, said Tanner. “A stressed out shopper does not want to have to dig through unorganized displays or look at empty shelves. If they can’t find your product, they can’t buy it.”

An inventory app is a good solution to making sure you have what customers want in stock.

In the end, said Tanner, “Focus on the customer. It is all about them.”

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