The Christmas Conspiracy

Christmas tree

I have called it a conspiracy in the past. Here’s how I presented it. First, you eat the Thanksgiving turkey. The very next day (Friday) you have the sudden urge to shop. You continue to shop until you eat the Christmas turkey or ham. The urge to shop is then terminated. Where does the conspiracy come into play?

There’s a secret chemical in the Thanksgiving turkey that creates an urge to shop. There’s another offsetting chemical in the Christmas turkey or ham that cancels the urge. My retrodicted (see definition below) logic says it is not a coincidence that “Butter Ball” and “Shopping Mall” just happen to rhyme.

Ok, now to get serious.

Christmas Affects Every Retailer, Even Specialty Stores

Seventy percent of all family discretionary dollars are spent during the five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every big box and major retailer knows that. They plan all year for that critical time.

Whether the grand total of yearly sales are up or down depends on only five of the 52 weeks. The stock market holds its breath waiting for the final annual sales numbers before predicting what the future will bring.

Here’s the sad part. Few small, independent retailers leverage those five weeks.

If they did the entire U.S. retail sales numbers would increase dramatically. After all, 98% of retail firms are small and have fewer than 50 employees according to U.S. Census figures, as reported by the National Retail Federation.

In years past those retail businesses not directly involved in selling traditional Christmas gift items appear to have believed they were not involved in this intense and compressed shopping fever. Instead they proceeded by considering it to be “business as usual.”

In years past, specialty retailers, those who dealt in enthusiast products or hobby items, did not cater to other members of their customer’s families. Today family shopping is the norm.

What that means is, many of the sales people will be dealing with customers who know little or nothing about the products the store sells.

It will mean the sales person is going to need know the level of knowledge of these uninformed customers and carefully guide them without appearing to be talking down to them. How is that accomplished? By asking questions early on and holding off making suggestions until the sales person has a clear picture of what the customer knows and doesn’t know.

The reality of today’s retailing is that all segments of the retail market are seasonal. Snow-blowers are not sold in May. Lawn mowers are not sold in November. Coats sell as cold weather approaches and bathing suits as the days get longer.

This is true even for specialty retailers who never considered their stores part of the Christmas shopping scene.

Nearly every type of retail store, no matter how specialized, should have a Christmas selling strategy.

And when it comes to Christmas, the shopping season starts earlier each year.  Halloween now signals the start of Christmas shopping.

How to Prepare Your Store for Christmas

Here’s what should, in my experience and opinion, be considered by small independent retailers to prepare a store for the Christmas season.

For this exercise, I am going to assume your store is well stocked with sufficient inventory. I’d like to focus on preparing staff and management alike to capture as many sales dollars as possible from the

First, there should be a meeting of all the store’s personnel a month or so before Thanksgiving.  The Christmas season is so critical to a small retailer’s success, that everyone has to be on board with the plan. Your staff is more likely to buy in if you take the time to prepare, giving staff the opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions.

Second, the owner and store manager, if there is one, must be present. This is no time to delegate. Management must show visible leadership in a small business at key times. This is one of those times.

Lastly, that meeting must contain the following thoughts:

1. Everyone who enters the store will be greeted immediately.

2. Christmas decorations will festoon the interior of the store.

3. Christmas music will be played … ad nauseam.

4. Everyone will be instructed that the customer is the ONLY focus.

5. Creative thinking will be for the benefit of the customer’s choices.

6. The coffee pot will be filled regularly.

7. Candy will be next to every cash register.

8. Gift-wrapping will be encouraged.

9. Gift certificate purchases will be encouraged.

10. Three weeks before Christmas staff will wear Christmas hats.

11. There will be no days off.

12. The hours will be longer.

13. Smiles are mandated.

14. Customers will be short-tempered and stressed.

15. Those on the sales floor will act like Santa’s elves.

16. Staff will celebrate Christmas after the first of the year.

Of course, some of the items on this list are in jest. I’ve exaggerated them to make a point.

The point is, both management and staff must have:

(i) a customer-centered attitude, combined with (ii) a laser focus on maximizing sales during the Christmas season. This is essential if annual sales and profit numbers are to live up to expectations.

These are the harsh realities of retail sales during this 5-week, Christmas shopping period.

And if some of this attitude and approach remains throughout the rest of the year, your store will be better off for it.

For more, read “Retail Trends: The Eyes Have It.”

1 Comment ▼

John Wyckoff John Wyckoff (now deceased) is the author of Mind Your Own Business, 2nd Edition: The Complete Guide to Profitable Powersports Dealerships. He founded Intersports Fashion West, a wildly successful powersports leather accessories business which he sold to Hein Gericke. In later life he appeared as a frequent speaker and consulted with motorcycle dealership owners on profitability and retailing.

One Reaction