The run-up to Christmas is here, but not as we know it. The countdown began this year, not on December 1st, but November 2nd, as we eagerly awaited the end of another country-wide lockdown.
Now that non-essential retailers have reopened, it’s looking likely that the usual Christmas rush will resume service.
With people denied the joy of window shopping and ‘mooching’ around shops at leisure during the lockdown, the crowds hitting the high street now could be even bigger than we’ve seen in previous years.
Last year, it was reported that from Cyber Monday through until Christmas, high street purchases steadily increased closer to the big day, despite online sales remaining strong.
Many shoppers likely enjoy the festive feeling that shopping in person offers over shopping online – and no doubt others will be making those last-minute purchases.
If you’re a small business owner, read on to find out how you can potentially capitalise on the Christmas rush and create a memorable experience for customers, without jeopardising their safety.
Lay out your shop for browsers
Now, more than ever, it’s essential to create a space that allows customers to move freely around your shop, without being too close to others – or feeling claustrophobic.
It’s a difficult balance to strike during December, with so many people eager to buy last-minute gifts, all at once. This is especially true when customers are typically browsing at leisure.
If your shop is small, think about the number of people you allow in the space at once. This will create queues outside, but it will give prospective customers the room and space to shop at ease.
Prioritise your best-selling stock
To create enough space in your shop for social distancing, you should avoid overstocking shelves or aisles. With this in mind, it makes sense to reserve enough space for stock that is highly popular, and that has high-medium profit margins. When this sells, you could start displaying other, lower priority or less profitable stock. Make sure all of the stock you display is seasonally relevant, and shoppers can see the potential for gifting.
To achieve this, you may want to consider specific marketing signage and even promotional material. For example, ‘3 for 2’ or ‘Less than £10’ – this could encourage shoppers to buy more, as an additional gift for someone or potentially highlights the perfect gift for a ‘Secret Santa’.
Allow contactless card payments, to minimise queues
Queues will be inevitable at some point during the Christmas season rush, but there are ways to minimise them, by keeping transactions speedy with card or contactless payments. That way, customers can tap and pay within seconds, and you could minimise your staff’s contact with cash.
If you’re a busy retailer, you may also benefit from a Pay At Counter solution. It integrates your card machine with your EPOS, so there’s no need to enter transaction amounts manually. That way, you avoid miskeying errors and save time between customers.
Adapt your trading times
One of the benefits of being a small retailer is that you have more control over your business hours. If your store is 280 square metres or smaller, you can open at any hour, any day.
During the Christmas period, you may want to stay open later, to help avoid potential rushes and large numbers in your store at once.
Consider a time-window for ‘click and collect’ services
If you have an ecommerce store as well as a physical one, consider the option for buyers to ‘click and collect’. This saves them a delivery charge and still allows them more of the authentic shopping experience. It could also increase your chance of upselling, as the customer may be tempted by other offers or impulse purchases when they come to collect their online order.
If your till area is small and you want to limit waiting times, you may wish to allocate shoppers a time for their collection. That way you could manage your footfall flows better and ensure the till area is free for collections.
Excel on customer service
Retailers must make the most out of the gifting season, especially after months of lost trade. However, optimising your shop for higher margins shouldn’t come at the risk of your staff or customers’ health and safety.
As well as the basics, like hand sanitising stations and face-covering signage, make sure your employees are well-equipped to help customers and prevent safety breaches.
Turning someone away from your shop because they aren’t wearing a face covering isn’t pleasant, so staff should feel like they’re well-equipped and confident to enforce safety procedures when necessary. To help them with this, you could practice ways to explain the situation to customers calmly and come up with best-practice responses for customers who will not comply.
Look out for local initiatives
After a relentless year, consumers are now more aware of the role of small and independent businesses. The gifting period is an excellent time for shoppers to buy locally and say thanks to their local high-street.
If you’re a retailer that accepts Amex in store, you may have heard of their Shop Small initiative that runs from 5th-20th December. If you’re taking part, don’t forget to pop on your window sticker to let shoppers know they can earn back £5 for every £10 when they spend using their Amex card.