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What is your Retail Strategy? A retail strategy is a long-term plan that creates a complete package which, in the eyes of the customer, is better than other competing store’s offers. What does that mean? Your plan, especially during the busy holiday season, will have many different parts to entice customers to visit your store and to spend their hard-earned money on your merchandise. The shopping experience you offer competes with what the other stores offer. Quality of merchandise, entertainment, enjoyment, socialization, price point and promotion come together to create a total shopping experience for your customers.

As the holiday shopping season is upon us, keep in mind that this is a great time to build your email list. You will have new customers in your store and those customers who show up about once a year will make their return visit. You will never have a better time to invite them to join your email list than now. Ask regular customers to confirm their contact information. Internet service providers change frequently and many people now use a gmail (email) account for sending and receiving email on their smart phones.

Don’t make the mistake of ignoring the customer’s tag-a-long friend. They may not be shopping on that day, but they may come back if they are not ignored and are treated well. Invite them to sign up for email or social media notifications.

Use your discretion in determining how to reward those who are sharing their contact information. However, keep in mind that nothing is free and your customer’s contact information will cost you something. One retailer offers a $50 gift certificate to be emailed to the customer to use on their next visit. He reported that most of these certificates are redeemed but the customer usually spends well in excess of $120. Yes, there are those who spend exactly $50. Those customers will always be there, but so will the new “great” customers who will think of your store, their positive shopping experiences and return again and again. Keep in mind that the dollar amount may be less for your store; determine the dollar amount that best fist your store and merchandise. Others offered a small free gift or a percent off a single item. Still others offered a monthly drawing for a gift or gift card.  The dollar amount of your “gift” will depend on your store and merchandise.

If you are in need of some on-line reviews, invite customers to review their visit to your store. Make it easy and offer them the use of a store tablet so they can upload their review while they are in the store. Don’t panic if you get a less than perfect review. A minority of poor reviews generally promote the feeling of authenticity. It also points out areas where improvement or policy changes are needed.

You will have to ask each customer for their participation. Some will refuse, others will participate but you won’t know if you don’t ask. Ask for a customer’s birth month (or month and day) and/or anniversary so that you can invite them back again to celebrate their special day(s). It helps to build the relationship.

If you do collect contact information during the holidays, input the information quickly. Thank your customer for coming in and for signing up for emails or updating their information. If you are rewarding customers for signing up, include whatever you promised for their participation. If you held a drawing, be sure to let everyone know who won the drawing—at least first name and first initial of the last name.

If you offer gift wrapping that may require training, now is the time for that training. Don’t put off training until you have a line of waiting customers. Do it now. Also, make sure you have ordered the required boxes, tags and bags and tape.

Most “experts” believe that shipping will be a hot item this year so decide now how you will address shipping. Don’t brush it off by thinking this applies only to on-line sellers. It applies to every store that sells merchandise. It could prove the difference between a browser and a buying customer. You will have customers shopping for Grandma or Uncle Fred and the decision to purchase from you may be the offer to handle shipping.

If you decide to offer shipping, you need to determine in advance how much the store will charge for it or if shipping will be free. It may be a service offered only to the store’s best customers or those who spend a minimum dollar amount or only through a particular date (like December 15, maybe). Further, you will have to determine who will make the post office visits and bring in the extra supplies to accommodate the shipping service.

If you plan to provide shipping for your customers decide now what the last day will be. Keep in mind that if you promise your customers an item will be delivered and it’s lost or damaged in shipment, they will blame you! Package carefully and plan accordingly. Stick to your plan. Define your policy.  Then make sure it is in writing and all your staff know and understand it.

It goes without saying that if you plan to have additional staff during the holidays they should be working now so they will be well trained by November. If your customers are like the statistical “general public”, they have less patience for taking their turn and no patience for waiting in line. Be sure your new or temporary employees know store policy regarding “no card present” transactions and all the different types of payments accepted as well as how to complete them. Each staff member should also be trained in voiding transactions and handling returns and charge backs. Keep in mind that payment may not mean only cash, check or charge now that the e-wallet has arrived. Your policy and procedure manual may also require revising to make it current with the services you now choose to provide.

A very important idea to address is appreciation for each and every potential customer who enters your store. Make those who make larger purchases feel special by sending them a hand written thank you. The stationery should feature your stores’ name and brand information and be written and signed by the sales associate. This is a great policy to have all the time but if you don’t already do it, now is the perfect time to start. Your point of sale software will tell you the larger transaction amounts. Choose a dollar amount and every transaction that reaches that amount should have a thank you note mailed to the customer. Everyone enjoys being appreciated and a hand-written note sets you apart from the rest.  Of course, this means you must have the customer’s mailing address. (In lieu of a mailing address, ask for email contact. Customers may provide one set of contact information but not the other. Ask.)

One quick mention about email marketing—everyone is sending out emails during the holidays. A November 2015 survey reported that 66% of respondents feel that 5 emails a week from a store is too many. Only 21% of those receiving 4 or fewer felt it was too many. While it is easy to ignore an email, such redundancies can make customers feel hunted, hurting your brand and bringing about a substantial number of UNsubscribes.

Finally, consider your return policy and make it as lenient as possible. According to a recent survey, the single most important thing retailers can do to increase customer satisfaction is to have an easily understood and lenient return policy.  If you don’t currently offer free shipping on returns, consider that as a special promotion during the holidays. Display it on your web site and in your store. Removing obstacles to selecting the wrong size or color, (etc.) builds confidence in potential customers.

Plan now for any new or additional services you plan to offer. Decide who will perform each of the additional tasks to make this the greatest holiday season ever. Update your web site and social sites with features of any new policies affecting customers. Include a calendar to highlight upcoming store events. Word from the experts is that the election is pulling much attention right now and may slow the opening of the holiday shopping season; but, those experts expect a strong shopping season with significant increases over last year.   Good luck!