By Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer
Cha-ching - that's the sweet sound of success in retail, baby! And with throngs of customers visiting your shop around the holiday time, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to buy. Try one or more of these strategies to make your cash register ring right along with those sleigh bells.
Improvements in three key areas yield good returns - beyond closing sales:
Upgrade or install an mPOS system: If you already use a mobile point of sale (mPOS) solution like ShopKeep or Square, check for upgrades and make them before the rush. If you have a traditional POS system, explore adding mobile functionality. And if you don't have a POS solution at all, now is the time to invest in one.
The right POS bundle does more than ring up sales. "With the cloud, tablet point of sale systems make it easy to understand everything that goes on in the store," explains Brian Zang, vice president of sales and marketing at ShopKeep. "At the highest level, it can tell me things like what items sell the best and which don't, and how much staff should I have and on which days. These are critical decisions that can really affect margins."
POS systems also allow you to accept more forms of payment, and with mobile options, you or an employee can complete sales from anywhere in your store - perfect for when there's a very long line at the checkout. And mPOS makes it easy to accept payments at fairs and expos, and to collect important customer information so you can follow up after the event.
Gather customer insights: Learning more about who is buying from you is exponentially easier with a good POS system. There have been "advancements in understanding customers' preferences and buying behaviors, and using that when communicating with them is critical," Zang says. It allows you to be proactive in bringing your customer base into the store, letting you tell them you have what they want instead of waiting for them to come in on their own. "It's a great way to get ahead of seasonal events," he adds. "For instance, you can send an email inviting people to come in and shop before the holiday rush."
Customer data also lets you engage more effectively when customers are in the store. "With a name or email address, you can see past purchase history and use that information. 'I know you were looking for X when you were here earlier. Here's something you're going to love,'" Zang explains. "Customer data on favorite colors, birthday, etc., makes selling - and buying - easier."
Make your Web site responsive: Research shows a lot of people use mobile devices to simplify their shopping, especially at the holidays. According to IBM, 19.1 percent of all e-commerce sales in December 2013 took place on a cell phone or tablet, up three-fold from December 2011. The company estimates that in November 2014, 20 percent of online sales and more than 43 percent of Web traffic will come from mobile devices.
That's why it's critical to make your Web site "responsive" so it works well on any device and platform. Does that concept intimidate you? Engage with a local digital marketing expert to do the heavy lifting.
Next, turn your attention to the customer experience:
Hire smart: "According to a June 2013 Gallup poll, nearly 70 percent of employees are not engaged. What kind of experience is a disengaged worker going to provide to a prospective customer?" asks Randi Busse, co-author of Turning Rants into Raves: Turn Your Customers on Before They Turn on YOU! "Probably not a very good one, which is why many customers walk out of a retail establishment without making a purchase - and that's a bad or indifferent customer service experience."
The antidote? Hire employees who think and act like owners, says Busse. "When there is a culture of ownership, it's a pleasure doing business with the company. Customers go out of their way to visit the retailer, are willing to pay more for a good experience, and are inclined to share their experience with their family and friends. Explain to employees that the customers are the ones who pay their salary. If we don't treat the customers well, they may not come back. If they don't come back, we won't have a need for your employment."
Be a consultant: Great salespeople facilitate shopping, helping customers to get answers, explore options and make decisions.
Embrace the Race, a brick-and-mortar and online retailer of horse-racing apparel, accessories and housewares, offers a personal shopping service in the store and online. "This personal touch allows customers to browse and then contact a personal shopping assistant to help put together packages," explains Mike DeAnzeris, president and founder of the Saratoga, NY–based company. Sales associates spend between 12 and 17 minutes, asking questions to assess needs and preferences and then making recommendations for an individual item, an entire outfit or a gift package. "The human interaction in fashion shopping can never be replaced. Our customers appreciate and are put at ease knowing they have a team that can help."
Kristie Glenn owns Blue Labels Boutique, an online clothing retailer based in San Antonio, TX. She offers her customers the opportunity to chat online. "It gives them the opportunity to get an immediate answer to a question about a product, or to inquire about something they're looking for," she says. "It's good for my store because it's like walking up to the customer and asking, 'How can I help you today?' It makes the customer feel like they are walking into a store and they have a specialist who can help them." She uses Tidio Chat, which is integrated into her Web site. Glenn keeps the app up all day so she can respond immediately. "It can help to drive sales by being able to give and receive instant feedback," she adds.
Another way to do this is through your email marketing: Instead of sending promotions, share information that helps your customers and makes you a valued resource - not just a place to buy stuff. Better yet, use your email as a chance to introduce your employees, so customers have someone to look for when they come in to your store.
Help customers save time: For many consumers, time is at a premium around the holidays, so helping them shave a few minutes is often enough to ensure loyalty. Allow shoppers to call in their orders or buy online and pick up in store. "It shows that we truly value our customers' time and want to make it easy for them," explains Gillan Hawkes, director of omnichannel for Staples. "Customers like it, because it ensures the things they want will be ready for them within two hours when they come in to the store. They won't have to waste time fighting the crowds. Also, it's a safe, secure and convenient place for customers to have their items delivered - especially important during the holiday season."
Another way to make the shopping experience less stressful is to create a sitting area for companions who don't want to browse; some stores and shopping centers even offer childcare. Another nicety: Offering self-service coffee, cocoa, water and snacks to provide an energy boost to weary holiday shoppers.
Instituting all these tactics may be too ambitious this holiday season, so pick one or two that are both doable and high-impact. When (or if) things slow down, add others so you're increasing sales all year long - and are ready for next year's holiday shopping season.