The holiday season puts retailers in overdrive as the rush for gifts and other seasonal items boosts sales and profits ever-higher. But every action has an equal opposite reaction, and the highs stores experience in November and December often precede massive slowdowns in January and February. After the excesses of the holidays, many shoppers start the year by returning merchandise, cutting budgets back to pay off credit cards, and staying home to avoid the winter weather – all of which combine for a challenging first quarter for retail businesses.
Luckily, there are many strategies that store owners and managers can employ to help survive (and even thrive) during the post-holiday hangover. Here are six smart ways your business can make it through the winter doldrums.
Around 50 percent of Americans make a New Year resolution. Tapping into those resolutions is a great way to attract attention to your business in January.
The most common resolution is to get healthier, which naturally benefits gyms, health food stores and activewear retailers; but there are other resolutions businesses can capitalize on as well. Many people resolve to get more organized or work on home improvements, which are ideal areas to emphasize for hardware stores or furniture sellers. Bookstores can focus on self-help books; meanwhile, clothing sellers may promote the idea of dressing more stylishly in the New Year with a fresh and fashionable wardrobe.
Take time to research popular resolutions that fit your category, then use that information in your marketing to draw out customers who might otherwise stay home.
Many Happy Returns
Unfortunately, returns tend to spike in the wake of the holiday season, hitting most retailers with a rough one-two punch of previously sold merchandise coming back to the store and money leaving it.
However, returns can also be an opportunity – look at it as a chance to foster customer loyalty by making it a positive experience. Make sure you have a convenient, hassle-free return policy – with a reasonable time frame for returns and flexible requirements for documentation like tags and receipts. Train all your employees on returns to prevent slowdowns and bottlenecks at a single customer service desk; and train them to practice empathy with customers making returns, while also looking for ways to make exchanges or upsell additional merchandise. You may even be able to recoup some – or all – of your losses by turning a return into an exchange, and maybe even encouraging new purchases.
New Products for the New Year
Many brands introduce new products at the start of the year. This is a great way to attract customers. If you have products launching during the otherwise slow winter months, with careful planning, the launch can be timed to tie in with upcoming holidays like Valentine’s Day or to help with achieving New Year resolution goals.
Though it might seem counterproductive to launch new product after the holiday rush, doing so can actually prove advantageous, particularly for smaller businesses. With less competition for attention after the start of the year, a new product is more likely to stand out rather than getting lost amid holiday noise. It also attracts early adopters and other curious customers to your store without having to offer a price-slashing sale. A strong January release can generate revenue that will serve as a base to build on as the year continues.
Get in Touch, Stay in Touch
While your customers were shopping for gifts during the holiday rush, they likely left YOU a valuable present as well: Data. Email marketing lists get larger during the holiday season, especially when retailers offer an incentive for customers to leave their information, such as a discount or contest entry.
Reach out to those customers with a post-holiday email – notice of an upcoming sale, a new product or service, or even just a thank you note. Remind the customers of the perks and benefits of shopping at your store and start a line of communication between the customer and your brand. But be careful not to overload them with too much contact – being perceived as a spammer will push customers away from your business.
Be Wise, Incentivize
Incentives to jump start sales in the New Year. If you offered gift cards for your store, promote discounts tied to gift card purchases – and limit those promotions to January, to encourage gift card holders to come and buy now, rather than waiting until they’re due to expire. While gift cards don’t count for new revenue, 72% of customers spend more than the value of a card when redeeming, so look for opportunities to upsell – and stock plenty of add-on and impulse buy items!
If your business offers online shopping, try targeting accounts with leftover unpurchased items in their shopping cart. An email campaign informing customers of a “missed opportunity” – tied in with deals and discounts – is a great way to both keep in touch with customers, and pick up additional revenue that might otherwise go untapped.
Keep Building Your Brand
Don’t let your marketing go into hibernation during the winter! The blizzard of promotional emails and social media during the holiday season sharply drops off after the start of the year, with exhausted retailers taking a break from marketing. In this period of relative quiet, an engaged brand can take advantage of a lack of competition – and foster customer attention – by releasing a steady stream of marketing content.
Promote sales, write holiday roundup posts, announce upcoming events – just keep the content flowing. Staying present and engaged when other retailers go silent will help ensure your voice is heard, and keep customers focused on your store as the year continues.
Use an omnichannel approach when marketing during the winter – keep your campaigns and message consistent across all your marketing channels: social media, email, and traditional advertising. Build campaign assets that complement each other, so that your customers connect with a cohesive message anywhere they may interact with your brand.
While January may seem bleak, treat it as an opportunity. With careful planning and smart marketing, your business can stay humming while your competitors take a long winter’s nap. Make your resolution to start out on a strong footing and lay the groundwork to grow your profits all year long.