Even though recent closures of iconic chain stores such as Toys R Us and Sears stoke fears of a total retail apocalypse, the truth is that consumers will still be shopping brick-and-mortar stores for gifts this holiday season. In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) forecasted that holiday retail sales will increase in 2018 by 4.3 to 4.8 percent, compared to an average annual increase of 3.9 percent over the past five years. The NRF also reported that in 2017, health and personal care stores raked in 17.8 percent of their total yearly sales from the holidays alone–a total of $59.3 billion in spending.
Though these stats should bolster beauty retailers’ holiday outlook, they also underscore the importance of taking full advantage of this profitable time of year by converting these seasonal shoppers into year-round regulars. “For any retailer, the holidays present a great time not only to recruit new customers as visits hit their peak, but to ensure they become aware of your offerings and become regular customers after the holidays have passed,” explains Coye Nokes, partner at New York-based OC&C Strategy Consultants.
“For any retailer, the holidays present a great time not only to recruit new customers as visits hit their peak, but to ensure they become aware of your offerings and become regular customers after the holidays have passed.”
—Coye Nokes, partner, OC&C Strategy Consultants
Larry H. Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions and Art Beautique in Clermont, Florida, adds, “Beauty stores need to be ready for the holidays with extra market- ing, powerful displays and bounce-back promotions to enhance retail sales year-round. Many shoppers–including many new, first-time shoppers–will be stocking up on gifts, while also buying for themselves. Be ready for this opportunity!”
The following expert tips will help you be prepared for holiday shoppers and entice them to keep returning throughout the year.
SUPREME CUSTOMER SERVICE
Let’s start with the basics: When a shopper visits your store, excellent customer service is paramount. It's even more critical when first-time buyers wander in looking for gift options (or if they’re just picking up some personal goodies).
“One of the best ways to ensure your first-time seasonal buyers keep coming back after the holidays is to provide out- standing customer service, because more business is lost due to poor service than poor product,” notes Nancy Friedman, an expert on retail customer service and communications and president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training in
St. Louis. “There are dozens of stores or websites where people can choose to buy products, but they’ll always remember–and return to–the retailer who offers the best price and service.”
Even better, meeting this basic customer demand often kicks off a domino effect: Friedman points out that 87 percent of customers share positive retail experiences with others, and 88 percent are influenced by online service-oriented reviews when making buying decisions. She recommends the following tactics for employees to ensure stellar service:
- Greet customers with a smile when they enter. Make them feel valued and let them know they’re being listened to and respected.
- Ask about the customer’s budget and suggest products that are within reach.
- Follow through on your store’s promises, particularly after the sale (if your customer has a problem with the purchase or changes his or her mind, for example).
- Put shoppers at ease to earn their trust—not only with their current beauty investments but also with your ability to help with their future purchasing decisions.
Nokes adds that great customer service isn’t just about the checkout experience–it’s about everyone on the floor being ready to assist shoppers, including offering trials and demos of hot products (particularly important in beauty stores). After all, shoppers can always buy products online, but they’re coming to you for the total experience–including expert advice and the ability to try before they buy. Make it an experience so good that it’s shareable.
As the year comes to an end, carefully survey your space. Do your displays or other visual merchandising, in every corner of the store, scream “excitement”?
Oskin advises using visually strong signs with call-to-action headlines, shelf talkers, counter cards and window posters to attract interest, and making sure your checkout area is loaded with easy-to-add extras for last-minute stocking stuffers and impulse buys. Consider introducing some new products and/or services; this is the perfect time to shake up your inventory a bit. Remember that original and unique items delight customers and keep them coming back to your store.
You can also drum up excitement among new and current clients alike by hosting fun holiday events, making your store a must-visit destination with gatherings that offer product demos, cover trends in beauty, deconstruct festive looks for the soiree season or unveil new brands, Nokes suggests. “When you cover the interesting movements happening in beauty, you build buzz,” Nokes says. “You can even invite local beauty influencers to the store, building a relationship with them so you can collaborate on events in the future. Use this opportunity to raise awareness of what you offer in-store, and keep up those activities throughout the rest of the year.”
Oskin agrees that retailers should offer great experiences, from special events to workshops, before, during and after the holidays. “You can create a series of special themed programs so your clients will associate your store with added value–think Fabulous Friday, Super Saturday, Super Sunday or even weekday events,” he explains. “Or offer a series of beauty workshops, with tips on hair color, makeup, haircare appliances or skincare trends, featuring expert speakers, refreshments and door prizes.” And, he adds, if your store offers services, be ready to incorporate, and thus promote, your staff during any workshops. Create and distribute updated menus, with first-time introductory specials for new clients to try haircut, hair color, nail, makeup, eyelash, brow and/or spa services. More frequent contact with customers also strengthens customer relationships and loyalty.
BEFORE AND AFTER
When it comes to the holidays, thinking ahead will pay off later. In fact, the NRF reported in its 2017 Holiday Planning Playbook that 54 percent of consumers begin researching their purchases in October or earlier. If you haven’t already, Oskin advises, create a year-end holiday marketing calendar so that you’ll be ready with an organized strategy to promote every product and category from November through Valentine’s Day. “Also create a weekly email blast starting in early November, and send a series of promotional flyers via email to all of your VIP or loyalty clients,” he adds. “Make sure each one has an irresistible coupon or gift certificate that is valid for only one week, or for one specific category with an expiration date–and note that the offer is one per person, with no double discounts.” You can send out these weekly emails through the first week of January, before going back to one or two announcements per month.
Bounce-back offers can also entice holiday shoppers to return as soon as possible–for example, promoting special discounts or gifts with purchase until the end of January (or within the first quarter of the year). “Create flyers that promote your January and Valentine’s Day specials,” Oskin says. “These flyers should show colorful photos of products and include two to four mini gift certificates, with each one good for a different week or a different product category.”
Finally, encourage consumers to continue the conversation long after their shopping experience ends by joining you on social media. Nokes explains that you can incentivize someone to follow you on Facebook or Instagram, for example, by offering a promo only for fans and followers. “You can offer specials for those who post your hashtag or comment on your page, which gets you in the flow of feeds and ramps up awareness,” she says. “But, as with anything else, make sure the content on your social media page is something that the consumer is interested in. It has to feel authentic or people get frustrated and unfollow. Always ask yourself, ‘What does the consumer want, and how can I give it to them?’”
By motivating holiday customers to sign up for your loyalty program, you’ll not only gain new members; you’ll be able to assemble crucial data on shoppers’ spending habits, preferences and interests. But, just as with social media, Nokes warns, first make sure that you’re giving something back. “You definitely want to ask yourself, ‘What is the consumer getting, and how does this benefit them?’ or they will get frustrated when simply bombarded with promotional activity,” she explains. “Around your loyalty program, you want to offer targeted incentives and promos–not just encouraging sales in general or pushing products they don’t even buy.”
“One of the best ways to ensure your first-time seasonal buyers keep coming back after the holidays is to provide outstanding customer service.”
—Nancy Friedman, president, Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training
You can also expand and revitalize your loyalty program with a new-customer referral program. Oskin recommends offering freebies or discounts (think $5 off any $20 purchase) when current customers refer friends, relatives or coworkers–and then give the new member the same discount for a win-win that may establish an ongoing relationship. “Collect every new member’s name, address, email, phone, birth date and full contact information for follow-up communications all year long,” Oskin adds. “Start your communications right away after the new year begins.”
Once you’ve gathered their contact details, Nokes says, don’t stop there; use that opportunity to learn more about them–and, ultimately, better serve them. For example, what trends are they interested in? What types of events entice them to visit the store? “Beauty is so interactive and engaging, so it’s great to get people in for trials and demos, whether you’re showing off a new product line or a specific technique like contouring,” Nokes explains. “You want to look out for the latest trends–and how to educate and build events around them–but you also want to tailor and target. Or you can put different types of events or topics on a rotation so you make sure you’re hitting different groups of consumers.”
Ultimately, Nokes says, you should be mining your loyalty program and purchase data to give you a more holistic sense of who your consumers are, how they behave and what tactics will encourage them to return. This isn’t an easy task, but observing new product launches and trends will help guide your effort. And, at a time when indie brands are booming, be prepared to remain on the lookout for fledgling companies that have a unique story to tell; after all, today’s customers are relying on you to bring them the latest and greatest. “If you think about what people now expect from boutique-style or department stores, consumers like to see curation,” Nokes points out. “With so many products and so much information out there, if you can tailor and curate well, you’re much more likely to engage them over the long haul.”
Quick Tips from Larry H. Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions and Art Beautique in Clermont, Florida
- Promote and Sell Gift Cards: Offer a free $20 gift card valid after the new year with the purchase of any $100 gift card during the holidays. Promote the gift cards with flyers and brochures, and reach out to local businesses to share corporate gifting ideas for office managers and employees alike.
- Start a PR Campaign: Create an ongoing series of educational (not sales-oriented) beauty-related press announcements for local print, online and broadcast media, which is a great way to feature your products and services without paying for advertising. Offer to be a special expert guest, providing holiday beauty tips for local radio and/or TV shows. Then, once you’ve established those connections, follow up throughout the year to land recurring appearances.
The National Retail Federation’s Holiday Planning Playbook offers these key findings from its 2017 report, which surveyed 2,040 holiday shoppers.
88% are influenced by online service-oriented reviews when making buying decisions
63% would like to use more online wish lists/registries from retailers for future gift purchasing
87% of customers share their positive retail experiences
47% of millennials are most influenced by Facebook
44% of Generation Z are most influenced
44%take gift ideas from family and friends
54% use recommendations from retailers
47% browse physical stores to find the perfect gifts
66% research products that cost less than $50
85% research products between $50 and $100
Find the full report at nrf.com.
[Photos by Iakov Filimonov/gettyimages.com]