It may be August, but if you work in the retail or CPG space, then your mind is probably in November or December (i.e. the holiday season) already.

And if it isn’t, it’s high time to start thinking about the holidays. Brands across the board will surely bring their A-game to reach and convert shoppers, and the last thing you want is to get left in the dust during the most important shopping season of the year.

Need help preparing for the holidays? We’ve put together some expert-backed tips to help you get ready for the upcoming season. Have a look below.

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1. Establish a strong creative direction to guide your holiday campaigns

Holiday tactics and specific promotions are important, but before getting into all that, see to it that you’ve mapped out a clear creative direction for your brand. As Christine Guillot, founder at Merchant Method puts it, CPG firms should pay homage to their “brand provenance.”

Your creative direction and brand strategy must be locked in early on as it will serve as the “north star” for your brand during the holidays.

And once you’ve established these things, communicate them clearly to the rest of the company. “Every employee and every brand representative should understand that direction,” Guillot adds.

2. Nail down your product assortment and merchandising early

Getting your product assortment is critical all year round, but the stakes are much higher during the holiday season, and you can’t afford to miss the mark. Iron out your assortment plans early and be sure to come up with compelling promotions and campaigns to get your product off the shelves.

“The first thing CPG companies and retailers can do at this time of year is plan the assortment they intend to feature during the holiday.” By getting laser-focused “on a set of SKUs, you can think through other promotional elements like any price discounts, expected profit margins, as well as what story you can build around the assortment to better position it with consumers.” – Bob Clary, Director of Marketing, DevelopIntelligence.

How can you get your assortments right? Look at your data. According to Guillot, “the visual merchandising team should have great data and forecasting from their merchant counterparts or their planning counterparts.”

Looking at your historical data will help. Guillot says that brands can typically predict what will sell well during the holidays. “Top sellers repeat year after year… so starting with your historic information allows you to understand how best to refresh or update your products and visual merchandising.”

If you plan to take risks (i.e. testing new products or visual strategies), do it as early as possible — Guillot advises taking risks in the fall or earlier. That way, “by the time you get into the fourth quarter, you’ve mitigated a lot of the risk associated with newness, from a product selection perspective. And then you can come in with amazing visual merchandising.”

3. Plan dynamic merchandising and retail campaigns

Speaking of visual merchandising, you want your visuals to evolve as the holiday season progresses.

“We know that the season starts sometime before Halloween and it gets earlier and earlier each year. With a shopping season that’s so long, buying occasions and shopping purposes change along the way.” – Christine Guillot, founder, Merchant Method

Guillot continues, “with seasonal analysis of past successes and trend forecasting, brands have an opportunity shift visual merchandising in a small but effective way that more closely aligns with why customers are shopping throughout the holiday season.”

“So an example might be, if you have a female shopper in her late 30s or early 40s who works full time and has children, she may be shopping earlier in the season either for teacher gifts or gifts for her employees. And then her occasion for shopping shifts into hosting and hostess gifts. Then there might be later-season shopping related to the addition of last-minute gifts and gift cards.”

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Implementing time-aligned visual merchandising such as relevant shelf talkers says Guillot, will help you stand out and maintain relevancy throughout the season.

When it comes to implementing your visual merchandising, she recommends creating “is and is not” frame of references, in which you show retailers both the correct and incorrect way to execute your visual merchandising.

“Showcasing one photo of acceptable merchandising is a must, but showcasing several photos of unacceptable merchandising refreshes the merchant’s eye,” she says.

“Often, I see brands show an image of what the display should be with only a few words of what it shouldn’t be. But showing multiple images is far more effective and sets the tone for expectations pre-season.”

Spend time pre-season creating your “is and is not” materials. Be sure also to consider how your inventory would fluctuate throughout the season and prepare merchandising guidelines to accommodate those stock changes.

“As the season progresses, inventory availability changes. Strong performing SKUs start to stock out and underperformers begin to fill the shelves because you need to move that inventory. At that point, you need to ask yourself ‘what is acceptable merchandising NOW?’ Then, resubmit “is and is not” photos so you can correct visual execution,” recommends Guillot.

Once you have your merchandising guidelines in place, plan and schedule retail audits to evaluate their execution. Map out your store visits and coordinate with your retail partners as early as now to ensure that everything is on schedule for the holidays.

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To increase efficiency, use a cloud-based retail audit software that works on multiple devices and keeps various parties on the same page. See to it that store and merchandising information are updated in real-time so you can quickly make adjustments. The holidays are hectic, after all, so speed is essential.

4. Make your customers’ lives easier this coming holiday season

Launching holiday promotions and stunning displays aren’t the only things you can do to grab shopper attention during the holidays.

One sure-fire way to engage busy consumers is to be the brand that makes their lives easier. Ask yourself, what are the pain points of your customers during the season? How can your brand alleviate those pains?

The answer, will depend on your brand and your customers. But some ideas to consider are:

Creating gift guides – Save your customers time and effort from having to shop around for the perfect gift by compiling your top recommendations in a handy gift guide. Categorize products according to price point, gift type, recipient, or all of the above, to make it easy for shoppers to find what they’re looking for.

Urban Decay Gift Guide

Having content or tools around how they can use your products during the holidays – Getting people to buy your products is great, but you know what’s even better? Enabling them to find value and great uses for your merchandise. Create content that gives people ideas on how they can put your products to good use this coming holiday season.

For instance, research has shown that recipe searches typically spike during the holiday season (October to December), so if you’re a food brand, consider offering helpful recipes that list your product as an ingredient.

Smirnoff Holiday

Tutorials might also do the trick. What questions do your customers ask during holidays? What activities do they take part in? Take note and create educational materials around those topics.

And don’t limit yourself to text. Visual content such as images and video can prove to be engaging as well. “CPG companies should consider creating holiday videos as creative ways to connect with their shoppers,” said Cyndi Pyburn, Director at Sklar Wilton & Associates.

“Videos help to inspire people with innovative holiday ideas. They’re perfect for helping people explore new and different approaches to how they would typically decorate their homes, host holiday parties, and cook festive meals for gatherings of family and friends.” – Cyndi Pyburn, Director, Sklar Wilton & Associates

Setting up wish lists – Another thing that can make your customers’ lives easier? Wish lists. Allowing shoppers to put desired items in one place makes it faster for gifters to find — and buy — the right products.

5. Work to get your products placed on other gift guides, round-ups or reviews

Many consumers rely on gift guides from influencers and media publications for ideas and shopping inspiration, so securing spots in holiday gift round-ups or guides in your industry could give your brand much-needed exposure.

Approach writers and editors from relevant publications, as well as bloggers and influencers in your industry to see if they would consider including your products in their holiday roundups.

Influncer Post

Publications and blogs typically plan these pieces months in advance, so now would be the perfect time to send your pitch.

6. Get clarity on the things that you shouldn’t do during the holidays

Mapping out your holiday to-do list is important, but don’t forget also to identify the things that you shouldn’t do.

According to Clary, one often overlooked step that CPG and retail companies should take is eliminating “all unnecessary distraction and noise ahead of the actual period.”

“It’s quite common to see companies implement a “freeze” on new projects or technology platforms to ensure enhancement work won’t cause downtime during those critical phases.” – Bob Clary, Director of Marketing, DevelopIntelligence

Take some time before the holiday season to list the tasks or projects that shouldn’t be tackled from October to December, then share that list with the rest of your team.

Your turn

Are you currently gearing up for the holidays? What’s on your to-do list? Let us know in the comments.

About the author:

francesanicasioFrancesca Nicasio is a freelance writer and content strategist who’s dedicated to writing about retail trends and tips that help merchants increase sales, improve customer service, and be better retailers overall. Her work has been featured in top retail industry publications including Retail TouchPoints, Street Fight, Retail Customer Experience, and more. She’s also a featured thought leader on LinkedIn, and is followed by over 200,000 professionals on the site.

 

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