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November 25th, 2007
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE BLOG: Deck the halls with holiday sales

By PHYLLIS HUNT

The economy seems to be picking up and most forecasters expect this to be a jollier holiday for retailers. Even with rumors of economic downturns, experts are forecasting strong Christmas sales in the month ahead.

But a good business person leaves nothing to chance, especially in the crucial seasonal sales period. The actions you take now can make the difference between a Merry Christmas and a Nasty Noel. So here’s an early present from The Chamber to your business: 12 simple and cost-effective ways you can boost your holiday sales.

1. Provide outstanding service.
In today’s age of declining service standards, just offering good, old-fashioned customer assistance can help set you apart from competitors and ensure that shoppers patronize you rather than somebody else. Make it easy to do business with you, and customers will want to keep coming back.

2. Offer low-cost, high-value services.
Free gift-wrapping and personal shopping “elves” can help convince customers to shop with you vs. another company. Shipping — it doesn’t even have to be free — can help customers get presents to faraway loved ones with a minimum of fuss. Display tables can offer gift suggestions, and gift registries can let people make their Christmas wishes known to family and friends. Both methods help shoppers and can increase sales. Your store could even offer special shopping nights to help husbands (or wives) choose presents for their spouses.

3. Think comfort.
Today’s times are uncertain, and people are stressed. Provide a comforting environment that will draw purchasers to your store. It could be as simple as comfortable chairs where people can take a break, or maybe a massage therapist performing free massages for the weary. Perhaps a holiday open house, complete with Christmas cookies, could draw customers to your door. The comfort factor can also play a part in what gifts you highlight and recommend to customers.

4. Give and you’ll receive.
Offer a small gift that must be picked up personally at your business to draw customers in and get them buying again. “This is true even if you are a B2B (business to business). People will want to reciprocate if they receive a gift from you, or they’ll remember you when they need your product.

5. Join with other merchants for special promotions.
Allow 20 percent off of any one item in each store, with a shopping bag where merchants can cross their name off when the discount is used. The downtown areas of some small communities offer Christmas Strolls, with Main Street turned into a pedestrian mall featuring special displays, street entertainment and early season shopping. This can be translated into shopping centers as well.

6. Hold a special event.
A toy store could have a clown, a magician, or invite a local radio station to broadcast from the premises. The goal is to get people into your business by making it fun. Maybe a philanthropic event is your ticket to holiday sales. A bookstore could do a charity read-a-thon on the anniversary of a famous author’s birth. Readers could get pledges from their friends for some charity like the Boys & Girls Club, and the bookstore could donate a portion of sales.

7. Stay in touch with your best customers.
Send out special offers by e-mail or snail mail. Limited-time offers requiring prompt action are the best. Such mailers don’t even have to have an overt sales message. We recommend a series of regular mailings with hints and specials for the holidays.

8. Offer promotions to people that celebrate other holidays.
Families that celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa may feel left out in all the Christmas craziness. Help them with their holiday purchases, and they’ll reward you with sales.

9. Hold a contest.
The key to Christmas sales is getting people into your store or office. One way to increase traffic is by having a contest that requires people to drop off entry forms at your business.

10. Look for cross-selling opportunities.
Consider aligning yourself with other businesses: For instance – a catering business can align itself with an office furniture retailer. The connection? Businesses would buy furniture from the furniture retailer and then would receive a brochure on the caterer’s services. Try to think of similar promotions that can help boost sales for the holidays. Maybe a sporting goods store could team up with a local sportsman’s resort area by selling a discounted guided fishing tour with each set of rods and reels sold. Use your imagination!

11. Put together the perfect package.
Take a cue from the gift-basket industry, which makes a bundle ever year by packaging items as gifts. Do the same with your offerings. Offer complimentary products in groupings, preferably prepackaged with holiday ribbon and wrapping paper. This makes it easy for the customer to make a quick selection. And usually such bundled gifts offer higher margins and bigger average sales than unbundled products.

12. Call the Chamber.
Most retailers placed their Christmas orders by early September. Sometimes, however, those early orders aren’t accurate, and some businesses could find their shelves overstocked. If you’ve over-ordered, or even if you haven’t, your business might want to consider contacting the Chamber – we are holding a special fundraising online auction from December 22 – January 22 and we would love to include merchandise from your establishment in this auction. Think of it as a great way to promote your company and benefit the chamber at the same time! Call the Chamber for more info – 393-5900 or email us at chamber@sanmarcostexas.com.

Follow these 12 tips and your business can have a merry — and profitable – Christmas sales season.

PHYLLIS HUNT is the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce president. Follow her weekly postings under BLOGS at newstreamz.com.

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