My local Target store has had holiday decorations for sale since my birthday (October 16th). I always use that date as a measure and feel really strange if my birthday hasn’t happened yet, why am I able to already purchase tree lights and holiday M&Ms?!
This year, retailers are getting an even bigger jump on the holiday shopping season by introducing “Early Black Friday” sales. Starting tomorrow, Friday, November 5th, big box retailers like Walmart and Best Buy will be offering deep discounts on laptops, flat screen TVs and cell phones. And while the economy still struggles with unemployment still being high, consumer thriftiness and comparative shopping is what will again make this a largely-successful holiday season.
In my previous life in retail management, it wasn’t just deep discounts that drove sales in my store. It was a knowledgeable, friendly and smart staff that made our store one of the most successful in our district. And in the five years since I’ve left the retail world, I have seen how social media and the internet has affected my own shopping habits. With the emergence of Foursquare, and now Facebook Places, offering deals and specials, I’ll be more likely to see if I get a check-in special that is worth more than the coupon I may have in my purse.
While these discounts and deals are what bring people into the stores, nothing measures success more than the customer experience. Waiting 25 minutes for someone to figure out how to ring up my Foursquare special, to me, is unacceptable – as a manager and as a consumer. Below are a few tips I’ve put together to help retailers and consumers to have the very best holiday shopping experience:
1. Retailers: Have you checked your Facebook or Twitter lately? Who is engaging with your community and what are they saying? Are questions about products and promotions being answered in a timely manner? Are you publicizing your latest deal in your Facebook tabs? If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, fix it. Now. Your community is depending on you to “be there” for them.
(Sidenote: I regularly engage with my favorite brands on Facebook. Some are wonderful, and write back or answer questions almost instantly. Others, don’t seem to manage and monitor their community very well, allowing tons of spam links on their page, and likely aiding in their community managers missing out on consumer communication.)
2. Manage your reputation. Look at Yelp, Google Local and Yahoo! to see who is saying what about you. Ensure that any issues or any negative reviews are addressed, and ask your community to review your business on these sites. Customer feedback is key, and consumers rely on the past experiences of others to influence their decision making.
3. Trainings, Trainings, Trainings. I can’t stress enough how important it is for your entire staff to be educated on your social media promotions, check-in specials, and other offers and discounts available to those coming through your doors. If you are a store that is part of a large chain, make sure that you are communicating any questions to your district or regional managers. Also, if you see a customer come in with a check-in deal or coupon you may have never seen before, contact your district or regional manager to find out about that offer – you may be alerting something to them that may not have trickled down the corporate chain yet. Be proactive.
4. Engage your audience. Your community is so important. They are the ones that are spending the money in your stores that is ultimately going back into your bonus checks. Listen to what your community is saying. For example, if your company’s store location in Main Street Mall constantly gets complaints because nobody knows where the line starts, respond to your community by installing a rope-off system and signage, so your customers know where the register line is organized.
5. Cross Promote! Make sure that your marketing stays consistent between all channels: website, Twitter, Facebook, TV and Radio ads and print marketing. The reach of your message should go far with all avenues involved as long as you are smart and consistent.
Elena is an avid shopper, lover of online deals and obsessive Foursquare-er. Follow Elena on Twitter @nittanycupcake