November is the perfect time for smaller bricks-and-mortar stores to angle for a share of the pre-Christmas spending period, writes ALNA General Manager – NSW/ACT Ibram Kamil.
November has traditionally been ‘the calm before the storm’, a period where retailers ready themselves for the peak spending season of Christmas and summer combined. In recent years, however, November has become its own mini-spending season and the good news for physical retailers and small businesses is that in this period they can hold their own against both bigger stores and ecommerce.
According to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, November 2018 became an above average month compared to November in previous years. Retail analysts believe this was thanks to shoppers bringing forward their Christmas spending, with key influences being the Black Friday to Cyber Monday sales period in the US, which follows Thanksgiving, held annually on the fourth Thursday of November.
The consumer trend of spreading the budget over a longer period gives small and bricks-and-mortar retailers an advantage. Consider that bigger businesses tend to have a split season: pre-Christmas, where they are trying to make as much profit as possible; and post-Christmas, where Boxing Day sales aim to clear stock and maintain December revenue. Additionally, online businesses do not tend to reduce prices before Black Friday/Cyber Monday (this year 29 November to 2 December) so most of November sees both big and small businesses, online and physical retailers competing evenly on price.
Here’s how smaller bricks-and-mortar retailers can maximise this period by offering superior customer experience to pick up a bigger share of this spending spree before December and the summer sales take hold.
Presentation and merchandising
Appealing to foot traffic is an important element of having a physical store. Invest time, creativity and some of your marketing budget into making your shopfront visually appealing. Focus on products that are on-trend, unique to your store or difficult to purchase elsewhere. Perhaps you have customisable items that people feel more comfortable buying from you rather than an online store.
Consider the layout of your store carefully. Are your special offers clearly visible and attractive? Does the layout encourage shoppers to look around? Is there a smooth and natural flow to the checkout? Remember to remove irrelevant stock (farewell Halloween) and focus on a seasonal display of items more likely to sell at this time of year.
Focus on customer experience
The main advantage smaller, physical businesses have over their larger and/or online counterparts is their presence and their community engagement. Offer a sensory experience, from tasteful decoration to suitable music that will encourage a seasonal spirit without distracting people from shopping.
In its report ‘Experience is everything’, PwC states that what truly makes for a good experience is: “Speed. Convenience. Consistency. Friendliness. And one big connector: human touch.”
A clear advantage physical stores have over online retailers is the absence of shipping time. Promote it! Also make sure your checkout process flows smoothly, with enough staff assisting with sales to leave customers with a good impression.
Consider adjusting your opening times to meet customer demand. Do you find closing time rushed? Extend your hours.
For example, convenience and browsing remaining the key reasons people enjoy newsagents. Over half of customers visit a newsagent due to their convenience and one in two see newsagents as a destination retailer.
How is your store laid out? While some people enjoy browsing, be sure to cater to the time-poor as well. Curate a selection of gift ideas or gift packs. You can group by price (‘gifts under $10 for Secret Santa’, ‘gifts under $50’) or by demographic (‘gifts for teachers’, ‘gifts for dads’).
Upsell with greetings cards or gift tags, gift wrap or even a gift-wrapping service. Make sure Christmas cards are in a prominent position, appealing and tidy. If possible, offer Christmas postage stamps as well to save people time.
The personal touch
Friendly customer service, local knowledge and building loyalty among your customers are key areas where small, physical stores have an advantage over larger, impersonal stores and ecommerce sites.
You might decide to offer a service where you provide advice to customers to find the perfect gift for a hard-to-please recipient, or a free wrapping service for loyal customers as added value. Consider partnering with a charity, school or club to incentivise sales, for example, for every $100 spent, you’ll donate $5 to a local cause; or make your wrapping service donation-based where all proceeds go to the organisation.
If using social media, use hashtags that local people will be using (ie, #<suburb>shopping) and update your channel regularly with styled images of products perfect for Christmas, entertaining, summer – any theme you feel works with what you offer.
About Ibram Kamil
Ibram is the General Manager – NSW/ACT of Australian Lottery and Newsagent’s Association (ALNA), the peak national industry body for Australia’s newsagents and lottery agents.