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For many retail and specialty shops, the mad shopping scramble that erupts on Black Friday and continues throughout the holiday season leaves the business owner little time to focus on anything other than managing employee schedules, keeping the shelves stocked and neat, and helping customers find and buy the things they want. The objective, of course, is to do as much business as possible while customers are in the mood to spend and have a deadline to complete their purchases.
But if your only focus during the holidays is on getting customers to buy now, you're missing an opportunity to make your business more profitable throughout the entire year. In addition to encouraging people to buy now, your holiday efforts should include strategies to get those shoppers to come back repeatedly after the holidays are over. Here are several tips for accomplishing that goal.
Get Shoppers’ Contact Information
One of the best ways to encourage customers to stick around for the long haul is to ask them for their contact information, and then stay in touch with them on a regular basis. Two ways to communicate with them on an ongoing basis are email and text messaging. To get customers to give you their email addresses, ask them at checkout if they'd like to get notified of sales, or receive coupons, and then have your cashier take down their email address. Or, have signup forms at your cash register and other strategic places around the store. Ask customers to fill out the form and deposit it in a box to get notified of sales and special offers. You can also include a flyer with email signup instructions in every package. If you use SMS text messaging, you can ask your customer to subscribe to that service. Again, put a big sign near your register and in other strategic locations inviting customers to sign up.
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Be sure you have signs and put fliers in packages telling customers how to find your social media accounts, too. Let them know that you'll post information on social media about special offers, hot new products, or tips related to using your products or services. The more people who visit, like and share your social media pages, the more customers you're likely to attract. Word of mouth, after all, is one of the best marketing tools for small businesses.
If you sell online, have email signup forms on most of your pages. In addition, if your storefront has the capability to do so, follow up with customers who abandoned their carts, or who saved items but didn't come back. Doing so will turn some of those abandoned carts into completed sales.
First Impressions Are Important
As hectic as things can get during the holidays, it's crucial to make sure your business does everything it can to maximize your new shoppers' first impressions.
Train employees to greet your customers with a smile and ask if they need help finding anything. If you have an online store or take orders on the phone, be sure the people who answer your phone are pleasant and polite with all callers. It's always easier to get a shopper back to your store if they’re able to find exactly what they need quickly, particularly if you have friendly, helpful staff ready to assist them.
Work hard to ensure that your business is staffed appropriately at all times and have enough stock to ensure a good experience.
Train your employees to help keep the store looking as neat and clean as possible throughout the day. Hurried (and inconsiderate) shoppers can mess up counters and displays and move merchandise to places other shoppers would never look for it. Be sure merchandise is folded, or hanging neatly, and that sizes and colors are where they should be.
Make it easy for new customers to navigate your store or your online storefront. In your physical location, make sure that all of your displays are well-organized and logically grouped together. If you have specific items that you know customers will be looking for during this time of year, make sure they stand out and are easily accessible. If you sell online, feature hot selling items on the home page, and have a navigation menu that makes it easy for customer to find what they are looking for by category, and if possible by price.
Don’t forget how important it is to follow through with new shoppers. If you tell a customer to expect a product to ship in a few days, do your best to get it to them early or at least on time; if it's going to be later, make sure to contact them. Following through on your word can lead to repeat business and possibly even a good review. As important as a product may be, remember that your customers can probably find it, or something like it, anywhere. However, a good experience can stand out in their mind for a long time.
Learn From Your Mistakes
"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning."
This statement was made by none other than Bill Gates, and it’s an important consideration for any small business owner.
While your primary focus should be on developing a slew of happy customers, remember that every unhappy customer is an opportunity to find a problem and fix it. If you handle the issue or mistake well enough, you may even be able to turn a negative experience into a reason for your shoppers to return. If you can show new shoppers that you value their time and needs enough to handle a problem quickly, easily and satisfactorily, they’re more likely to return despite the original issue.
Assign someone to pay attention to posts from your customers on social media. Some customers will turn to social media to air their problem, so have someone keep a watchful eye on social media and addressing online complaints in a quick and respectful manner.
Don’t Forget Your Current Customers
In your goal to convert new shoppers into regulars, don’t forget the loyal customers you already have. Your regular clients need to know how highly you value them even if you're being overrun by new shoppers. Some options: offer early-bird access to hot new products, or special discounts for your email list subscribers only. (Those on your email list are likely to be customers, and possibly frequent shoppers.) Or, introduce a frequent shopper or discount program for repeat business. Your old customers will love it, and it will give new customers a reason to return.
Kick off the New Year with a Special Offer
Encourage old and new customers to come back to your store with special promotions in January and throughout the year. To boost your reach, get together with non-competing merchants and cross-promote each other. (I.e., you send a mailing to your list for their store, and they send a mailing to their list for your store.)
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