This holiday season will be challenging for many retailers. According to Deloitte, holiday sales are predicted to increase
7-9% this year. But what if retailers can’t produce enough staff or product to sustain those numbers? How will retailers be able to overcome or pivot around these barriers? To ensure employees and customers have a successful holiday season, retailers need to prepare for the good, the bad, and the ugly. This year, retailers are faced with the same challenges as last year but with a few differences, such as an increasing number in consumer traffic, constant delivery delays, and inventory shortages.
In a recent article by businessinsider.com, 100 cargo ships are sitting in limbo with tons of merchandise that probably won’t hit retailer’s shelves until February 2022, which could put a damper on holiday shopping this year. Some companies such as Amazon and Target have launched early Black Friday deals to persuade consumers to shop earlier in hopes of gaining profits faster and avoiding empty shelves as Black Friday gets closer. It’s up to corporate and management to secure their teams with the right training tools so employees can come out of this holiday season feeling somewhat in control of an uncontrollable situation.
The importance of alternatives and product knowledge
Retailers are hiring in large quantities this year, trying to pick up ground from a never-ending labor shortage combined with seasonal hiring. But with massive amounts of hiring comes massive amounts of training. Retailers need to equip their teams with product knowledge and problem-solving skills to combat consumer woes, and quickly. Every holiday season there’s at least one top product on the shelves that sells out in every store. Well, combine that one product by 100 products that will either be completely sold out before Black Friday or sitting on cargo ships until next year. Coming up with alternative options could ease consumer distress and potentially save a sale.
Utilize company visual aids and try to compare those items to products you have in-store currently. Look for alternative items with similar features such as fabrics or colors and talk about the benefits of the alternative item. Maybe those benefits could be better than the item the customer was originally looking for. Training on product knowledge can be a little boring. If you want to make it fun, try to come up with a game or center the training around a contest.
Let’s talk about rewards programs
Rewards programs can be beneficial to both consumers and retailers. For retailers, reward programs can increase sales, help retain existing customers, and build growth by enticing new customers to join. Also, retail companies can use the metrics of rewards programs to gage what products and promotions customers are gravitating towards and tailor those findings to create new incentives, which will encourage customers to continue buying their products. For customers, it’s an easy way to accumulate savings, find products curated to their likes and dislikes, and get exclusive offers for being a loyal customer. These advantages, and more, can be used as talking points when trying to sign customers up for rewards programs.
A great way to introduce rewards programs to customers is by talking about it on the sales floor before the customer even gets to the register. Check with every customer and see if they’re a rewards member. If not, let them know the benefits of becoming a member. Also, most rewards programs are now available as an app rather than a physical card, this is the perfect opportunity to sign the customer up, via phone or tablet, right on the sales floor. All employees should learn how to navigate and capture customer information on the app, since some customers may be technically challenged and need a little help signing up. Doing so will relieve stress for both the employee and the customer and help speed up those long lines at the registers.
Tell customers the truth
The supply chain crisis is not a secret. It’s been all over the news for well over a year now. Retailers have been experiencing inventory shortages on just about everything, from clothing and water to paint and wood. Customers who choose to wait until Black Friday to shop may run into shipping delays and bare shelves. These are details customers should know to better understand and prepare for the dilemmas all retailers are facing now.
Throughout my retail career I’ve found that being honest with customers has been very beneficial. Although some may not like the answer they get, most are still appreciative of the truth. Also, having those conversations informs the customer that there are many other pieces to the puzzle that employees have no control over. Customers don’t need to know every little detail, but prepare a response that speaks to the companies’ current issues. Employees should keep it short but be honest, then go back to the first and second steps and supply the customer with an alternative option and talk them into becoming a rewards member. This is the part of customer service where honesty and quick problem-solving skills can really solidify a loyal customer.
With vaccinations on the rise and COVID-19 cases dropping, retailers should expect higher traffic in-stores along with increasing numbers in curbside pickups and fulfillments. This year, ecommerce sales are projected to increase even more compared to last year. Even though retail companies do profit more from customers visiting brick-and-mortar locations, many holiday shoppers will be buying online from the comfort of their own homes. As Black Friday approaches, retailers will need to train their teams diligently on product knowledge, apply technology where needed, and coach employees on problem solving techniques to concur this holiday season.