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Getting those Christmas sales - a word to the wise

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Getting those Christmas sales - a word to the wise
 
As the Christmas season rolls around, shopkeepers and stallholders are bracing themselves for the onslaught of customers eager to stock up with gifts, homewares, decorations and food to prepare themselves for the festivities.
 
But as the recession (and I use this in the populist sense) continues, everyone is a little more careful with their cash, more focused on value for money and needs that bit more time to decide on most purchases.  So, how can we all avoid the "lovely, I'll think about it and come back" or if we don't avoid it, how can we ensure they really do come back?

Walking in the customers' shoes

The endless consumer surveys and loyalty clubs/discount are testament to the power of customer information in developing targeted marketing and bringing the right products to the attention of the right customers.

So how does this translate to a small business at Christmas time? If you've been in business for a while, it's worth spending time doing some analysis: 
  • when do your main customers usually stock up? Are they early planners or last-minute? 
  • did certain products sell better at different times in the run-up to Christmas?
  • where did your new customers come from last year? Can you make an extra call to your best business referrers?
  • if you like pictures, plot a graph of sales and think about the dips and peaks - why? who? when?
  • if you have a lot of data, are there trends? Is there a particular type of customer who buys more of a certain range of products? Do your customers fit into different price points for the products they buy.
  • if you keep a note of customer feedback, what was it about that product that made them buy? Timing, relevance, price, quality?
  • which customers respond better to calls, email or invitations to events?
You can then focus your time and effort on the most productive parts of your business: whether it is changing your marketing or follow up approach to different types of customer, or bringing products to people's attention at different times. 

Timing and just being there

Of course, a lot of sales success is about timing, having what the customer needs at the right time. Statistics and analysis may give you some clues so you minimise the number of ineffective events and maximise the number of new customer referrals and repeat orders.  

But there is also an element of chance.

And the best way to maximise success in a game of chance is to keep playing: you are more likely to throw a six on 10 rolls of the die than one.  Of course, you need to weigh up the cost/risks and rewards of doing so, but the chance of making that golden sale is greater if you go to 10 shows than if you go to one.

If you are there more often, you are more likely to hit on the right timing for more people.  There is a balance to be had, emailing your favourite customer daily may not endear you to them, but it's worth finding a gentle way to keep in touch with people.  

Social media is great for this: people can choose to look or not, so you aren't always appearing in their inbox or on their doormat, but you can post useful information, hints and tips, pictures and even a few random thoughts so that if they are choosing to look, there you are.

This is also a good way to offer "exclusive" discounts for a limited time: anyone who sees a particular tweet or facebook post can benefit from say 10% for orders within a certain period.  You can use it for advertising - anyone liking and sharing a facebook post can go into a draw or benefit from a discount.  These are just basic ideas, there are many more you could try, depending on your customer base, product and personality.

Personally, I'm going to try an advent count-down on my facebook site: a different benefit for each day of advent for anyone who orders on that day: free gifts, discounts, buy one get one free, introduce a friend discount etc, etc. - I'm sure I'll have worked out 24 by the time we get to December 1st!
 
pink corset and tutu
Following up, oh and learning from those mistakes

One thing I haven't mentioned so far is making a note of when things go wrong, usually those events stick in the mind so they don't need writing down or dwelling on, but it can be good to think about them in so far as to work out how to avoid them again.

For me, more planning and preparation would have avoided most of the mistakes, and possibly a better night's sleep or two, but it is worth noting if there are patterns or certain events which don't bring out the best in you.

The second thing missing is a discussion of the power of customer service.  Continual good service and putting the customer first really is the way to ensure referrals and repeat business, and will make more impact on the success of your business than all the sophisticated marketing and targeting in the world. 

So, ask for feedback, follow up and communicate so they know about any problems before they have to ask. I have a feeling that all of you maintaining your businesses throughout the recession already know all about that.

I'd love to hear your experiences and how you are keeping your sales up throughout the lead up to Christmas.  Your comments would be much appreciated.
 
Please also take a look at my personal website and let me know if you're tempted to have a party, go on, think of all the fun you could have over Christmas with your purchases: www.bluebella.com/rachelbluebella

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