October retail comp store sales are trickling in and they are all over the board. Reports of negative comps are coming from The Buckle, Gap, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch and Macy’s, while Cato, Stein Mart, Zumiez and Old Navy are in the black. Why? Some believe warm weather, less than inspiring fashion and the never ending Ebola media coverage distracted the October shoppers. In general, discounters fared better than teen and general retailers. Another consideration is that people who depend on their foot traffic (Gap) had a much tougher time yet those who supplemented their sales via the internet did better.
While there are still plenty of retailers who have not reported their October sales, the National Retail Federation is estimating holiday sales to be up 4.1%. Why? Before we look at some explanations we should keep a couple of NRF factors in mind: 1) The NRF holiday time period is described as November and December, it doesn’t include January like many analyst incorporate. 2) The 4.1% increase compares to the 10-year average of 2.9% holiday sales growth.
So back to “why”. There are some positive factors occurring in the United States including lower gas prices and lower unemployment. While the economy is still top of mind for many people, more and more believe the economy is slowly improving. Retailers hate to be economists so we would rather look at the fact that last year we lost 6 days of selling between Thanksgiving and Christmas and this year we get one of those days back. Hold on to your hats, because next year we get another day back so get your shades on for the bright future. Also, last year the government shut down for 16 days which sent everyone into insecurity frenzy about 2014.
There are still challenges to face this year. Consumers are reporting that they prefer in-store shopping for a number of reasons including knowledgeable associates, but hate fighting the crowds. At the same time, the internet offers 24-hour shopping opportunities, convenience, easy price comparison and shorter lines — but the perception is that data breaches are riskier online than in-store.
So how do we maximize our sales opportunity? The #1 answer is the same as it has been since the beginning of time: Customer Service! Whether it’s online or in-store, make sure you are giving the best possible customer experience. That includes price matching. Consumers are savvier with tablets and smart phones and they are comparing prices before they buy. Retailers should be prepared to address their pricing questions. Also, be sure you have one-of-a-kind, unique items that your customers must come to you to buy. If you are a small, local retailer, take advantage of being part of your community. Small Business Saturday is November 29, 2014, so talk it up and be ready. Your fans want to support you.
And speaking of fans, use social media to your advantage! People are looking for gift ideas, and now is your chance to tell them what you have, so Tweet, post on Facebook, use Pinterest and Instagram (and use that old-fashioned email) to reach your constituents. Lastly, remember all the delivery issues surrounding last year’s last-minute online purchases? UPS and FedEx simply couldn’t keep up with the demand, which means retail stores are the perfect last-minute gift destination. Plenty of well-intended gifts did finally arrive, but only well after Santa, the tree and the trimmings were packed up and stored.
What’s the bottom line? Don’t let your customers down by letting them buy online at the last minute! Your buys have been made, so now it’s up to you to get the word out. You can do it! The outlook is good but you can’t sit back expect miracles to it happen, even at the ‘most wonderful time of the year.’ Watch this breaking news from RNN – Reindeer News Network to get you ready: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gJAQOa8_RY