7 Ways to Make Your Store Stand Out During the Holidays

Beat the competition by offering distinctive gift cards, hosting special events and streamlining gift-wrapping services.
Host VIP events for your customers with drinks and finger foods to celebrate the holidays at your small business. (Photo: Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock)

The holidays mean big business for retailers. Some stores rake in as much as 30 percent of their annual sales during the gift-giving season, according to the National Retail Federation. But if you want a portion of the $682 billion holiday retail sales predicted this year, you’ll need to go above and beyond your competition.

Customers want more than just a place to purchase holiday gifts — they want to visit stores that feel festive and pay attention to even the smallest details, such as staff wearing Santa hats, said marketing expert Paula Mattisonsierra, founder of Power Marketing SF and a former retailer. She shared her tips for making your store stand out from others this holiday season.

Boost your curbside appeal

When it comes to retail holiday marketing, the first place to invest is your store exterior by finding ways to boost your curb appeal, said Mattisonsierra.

Paula MattisonSierra

“You can’t have a lovely outside and forget about the inside. Lead into your store with those same lights, without overdoing it.” -Paula Mattisonsierra (Photo: Paula Mattisonsierra)

“Store owners need to remember that marketing doesn’t start inside the store, it starts at the curbside. You need to get them from the street into the store.”

Before breaking out the decorations, she suggested hiring a professional cleaner to give the outside of your store a thorough scrub.

“Steam cleaning is very inexpensive and it brightens up the existing paint job. It will pop you out from the other stores,” she said.

Once your store is clean, light it up with festive strands of bulbs on the trim, around the door and on your walkway. Mattisonsierra recommends installing a timer on all your lights to draw shoppers’ attention throughout the evening.

“So many small business owners turn them off at night, but the reality is that people are consistently shopping, especially during the holidays,” she said. “Have your lights go on at 4:30 p.m. and stay on long after the stores close, maybe until 2 a.m.”

Finally, decorate the inside of your store with more lights and holiday decor.

“You can’t have a lovely outside and forget about the inside. Lead into your store with those same lights, without overdoing it,” said Mattisonsierra.

Theme your windows


To catch the eyes of potential customers, use your windows as a marketing tool and decorate for the holidays. (Photo: windowdecorations/Shutterstock)

Your windows present one of the best sales opportunities for your stores. They’ll showcase your best merchandise and set the tone for holiday shopping, said Mattisonsierra.

“Lights and decor should be a canvas for items you put into windows. It should have a nice, festive feel to it,” she said.

To make your windows distinctive from others on the block, choose a theme for your decorations. Need some inspiration? Look to the pages of classic holiday films and children’s books. Stories like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” will give you creative visual merchandising ideas, get kids excited and make adults feel nostalgic, said Mattisonsierra.

“Create focal points around products that people will notice as they walk by. What goes in the window will get folk’s attention, so change it as often as possible.”

Dress up your staff

Retail staff play a big role in driving holiday sales. Get employees to dress up, even just a little bit, to fill your store with even more holiday spirit.

“You can require that they wear a santa hat, or wear something red and green when they come to work. Anything to keep the magic going,” said Mattisonsierra.

If possible, tie the holiday accessories back into the theme of your windows, she advised. This will help keep your marketing consistent.

Host special events

One of the biggest assets your store has over its competition is a base of frequent customers, or “super shoppers.” Tap into this wealth by throwing parties for them during the holidays.

“My favorite suggestion is hosting a VIP shopping event for your most frequent shoppers. Offer a special discount during the event, and make it a really fun, party atmosphere,” said Mattisonsierra.

Try to draw a large crowd, even if you need to invite family and friends to round it out. This will make the party a lively experience for guests and draw the eyes of potential shoppers as they walk by, she said. Anything you can do to make it seem more exclusive, like having someone stand outside checking names on a guest list, will make others want to come inside.

“People like to see crowds of others doing things, and they’ll want to know what’s going on in your store. If they want to come in, have them sign up for a VIP events email list which you can use as a great marketing tool going into 2018.”

Streamline your gift wrapping


Offer free gift wrapping for customers who have purchased an item at your store for an easy way to go above and beyond. (Photo: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock)

Who hasn’t ended up in a frenzy trying to finish all their wrapping on Christmas Eve? Give your customers a break from that stress by offering to do their wrapping for them, suggested Mattisonsierra.

“Gift wrapping is a fantastic pull for small businesses. Definitely offer it for free on purchases from the store and possibly a paid service for products from elsewhere. It will have the two-fold benefit of helping you make a little more revenue and get people to come in and take a gander at what you have to offer,” she said.

Make sure the wrapping station is streamlined for busy times. Customers don’t want to wait an eternity for a service that’s supposed to save them time in the long run.

“Ensure that you allot enough space to handle the potential volume,” she said. “You don’t want to get customers excited for something, then disappoint them with poor follow-through.”

Turn gift cards into experiences

Gift cards used to be the go-to gift for shoppers who didn’t know what else to buy. Nowadays, they’re one of the best-selling holiday presents. Encourage shoppers to buy one (or more) from your store by enhancing your gift cards with an experiential element, said Mattisonsierra.

“It works really well if the store can prepackage something else into the gift card. Instead of just going in to pick what they want, perhaps the recipient also gets a personal shopping experience with champagne.”

Tie the experience back into the offerings of your store, she advised. If you offer gourmet foods, you could consider a gift card that includes dinner for four. Or a paint store, for example, could offer a hands-on painting tutorial, while a home goods shop would do well offering design consultations.

“It makes the gift card a lot more special,” she said. And it won’t be a gift they’ll easily find anywhere else.

Appeal to shoppers’ selfish sides

Everyone’s guilty of picking up a treat or two for themselves as they do their holiday shopping. Tap into shoppers’ selfish sides to boost impulse buys and encourage larger sales by offering a free gift with a certain purchase amount.

“This is a great time for you to utilize dead stock,” said Mattisonsierra. “Present the items well and offer an additional percentage off a future purchase to help build repeat business.”

As with all of your holiday offerings, make sure you promote the free gifts throughout the store and dust off your staff’s upselling skills for when they are interacting with shoppers, she said.

“Create signs and display them in gold or silver frames. You should also wrap the promotion in great sound bites, like ‘Do something great for yourself this season.’”

By enhancing what you already offer and creating a merry experience for your shoppers, you’ll make the most of your holiday sales opportunity — and get an edge over competing stores.

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