Holiday Survival Guide 2015: Retailer Tips & Tricks



By Daniel P. Smith

Consider Harris Botnick ready. The owner of Worthmore Jewelers, a two-store, Atlanta-based operation, welcomes the chaos that consumes his stores each December, his busiest month of the year. 

“People are in buying mode during the holidays, so you’re not trying to convince them to spend,” says Botnick, who runs Worthmore with his wife, Geri. “It’s a good time to be in the jewelry business.”

Last holiday season, retail sales in the United States topped $616 billion, a 4 percent increase over 2013 and the nation’s highest tally since 2011, the National Retail Federation reports.

And jewelry purchases stood prominent. According to Deloitte’s annual holiday survey, one in five consumers planned to give jewelry last holiday season. 

As much optimism as those positive numbers spark, retailers like Botnick know it remains an intense battle to earn sales. “There’s a lot of competition for that dollar,” he says.

Here are five ways savvy retailers are driving holiday traffic and sales.

Festive Special Events

Botnick is the first to admit that while hosting special events helps differentiate his store and inspires good vibes, holiday shoppers’ bargain-hunting ways present an obvious hurdle. 

On December’s first weekend, Worthmore hosts a holiday kickoff party—a Saturday event at his Atlanta store followed by a Sunday party at his Decatur, Ga., location. “This brings buyers out and has proven to be a great way to kick-start December sales,” Botnick says. 

The now-annual event has featured everything from trunk shows and live music to a food truck, the shop’s signature rum punch, and a milkshake bar. Last year, Botnick tied the event to a local charity, Lost-n-Found Youth, and hosted a gingerbread house–building contest.

Worthmore has also invited in an estate buyer for its own antique jewelry roadshow. Mimicking the popular PBS series, the buyer provides visitors with some history on their items and an estimate of value. Media flock to the event, which further boosts traffic.

“The kickoff parties energize our staff and get us in front of holiday shoppers before their pockets get thinner,” Botnick says.

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Worthmore Jewelers staffers at its holiday kickoff in Decatur, Ga.

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Juliana “Boo” Berry (second from l.) with shoppers at Worthmore’s midtown Atlanta store

 

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An invite to Joint Venture Jewelry’s annual Wishlist Party

Perry’s Emporium announces its popular “Let It Snow” promo

Attention-Grabbing Promotions

In 2010, Alan Perry debuted his “Let It Snow” promotion at Perry’s Emporium in Wilmington, N.C., promising customers if it snowed at least 3 inches in Asheville, N.C.—a city in the Blue Ridge Mountains, some 350 miles away—on Christmas Day, their early-December purchases would be free.

Six inches of snow fell in Asheville that Dec. 25. The result was a big payout to Perry’s clients—more than $400,000, covered by weather-promotions insurance—and a marketing bonanza for the store. Sales jumped 34 percent compared with the same period the previous year. “The competition is so damn fierce that you have to let people know you want their business,” Perry says. “We did and it worked.” 

The “Let It Snow” promo is now a holiday–season staple for Perry, who insures his risk by selecting the city and snowfall amount and, later, paying a percentage of sales. “I’m paying for the insurance regardless, so I actually hope it snows,” says Perry, whose insurance bill for “Let It Snow” typically hovers around $20,000. Meanwhile, shoppers flood his 7,500-square-foot store each December, generating upward of $700,000 to $900,000 in sales over a 12- to 15-day period. “This is an absolute no-brainer,” he says.

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Joint Venture employees show their seasonal spirit.

Small Business Saturday 

Slated for Nov. 28 this year, Small Business Saturday continues making inroads on the holiday shopping calendar, driving shoppers to local merchants on the Saturday following big box–dominated Black Friday. Last year, some 88 million consumers spent $14.3 billion at independent shops during the nationwide initiative, according to the Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey.

“Small Business Saturday helps change people’s mindsets and puts small businesses like ours in the spotlight,” says Jen Hankin, director of communication at Joint Venture Jewelry in Cary, N.C. 

In recent years, the 17-year-old store has broadened the one-day event to cover the entire weekend, leveraging marketing resources from American Express’ ShopSmall.org site and Shop Local Raleigh to drive traffic. Joint Venture also supplies a voucher—$100 off any $250 purchase—to VIP customers to use over the weekend. “This helps burn a hole in their pockets,” Hankin says. 

Joint Venture completes its Small Business Saturday weekend with a Sunday Wishlist party, inviting local women to create a jewelry wish list akin to a gift registry. The shop collects each woman’s information and her selections as well as the potential gift-giver’s information. The Wishlist party “is our most successful holiday marketing play,” Hankin says. “It definitely generates sales and gets people engaged with our store.”

Going Omnichannel

Nearly 70 percent of consumers in Deloitte’s holiday survey said they were likely to webroom for holiday purchases—i.e., peruse items online before going into a brick-and-mortar store to buy. 

Capitalizing on this rising trend, Inter-Continental Jewelers in Houston trumpets items such as a 2 ct. white gold diamond bracelet for $1,995 and 0.25 ct. t.w. princess-cut diamond stud earrings for $99 on its website.

While some jewelry retailers shy away from such online transparency, Inter-Continental president Suzanne Grover embraces it, crediting her website with pushing holiday sales up about 25 percent.

“I get why retailers avoid [listing items online],” Grover says, “but customers want to know everything up front, and I think we have to get on that bandwagon.”

Despite the appeal of online shopping, the in-store experience continues to dominate jewelry, with consumers generally prefering to see and touch items. According to Deloitte, only 8 percent of consumers prefer buying jewelry online.

Grover says about one of three Inter-Continental customers visit her store after scouring its website, some even driving as much as four hours: “People are online constantly and have immediate access to information. If we can give them what they need, especially during the holidays when people are in a shopping mood, then we have a good chance at getting the sale.” 

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Who wouldn’t like to find this ring in their stocking? (14k white gold with 0.5 ct. t.w. diamonds, $1,295 w/o center stone, intercontinentaljewelers.com)

Motivating Staff

Amid the rush to please customers, retailers often forget the lifeblood of their operation: staff. Nearly half of respondents to Deloitte’s holiday survey said a knowledgeable sales associate boosts their likelihood of purchasing.

To inspire and enliven his team, Botnick hosts a pre-December holiday party for Worthmore staff. Last year, he rented a party bus and brought his employees to a nearby outlet mall, where he handed them cash and told them to buy something for themselves.

“This got our staff pumped up and did a ton to boost morale,” he says. “Our staff are so critical to us, and we need them engaged and motivated to sell.”

As the holiday season unfolds, Botnick runs contests, from a bingo game challenging staff to sell an assortment of items to a mystery prize game where they can win anything from cash to car washes. He concludes his prime selling season by handing his employees a holiday bonus. 

Botnick, whose stores are open seven days a week during the holidays, says the investment Worthmore makes in its employees’ well-being is crucial to the business’s fourth-quarter performance. “We need our staff on board,” he says, “and we need them energized for the long, intense hours of talking and smiling.” 

 

Houses of Cards

Euphemia Erikson, director of product marketing at First Data, which provides payment technology to merchants and financial institutions, shares five ways jewelry retailers can boost gift card sales this holiday season.

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• Rather than a generic store-branded gift card, create holiday-themed cards that celebrate the season and increase perceived value. 

Display cards in multiple places through the store.

From a sidewalk chalkboard to in-store signage, promote gift card availability both in and out of the store.

Offer a distinctive card carrier, such as a customized tin box, for an elegant presentation. 

Bundle the gift card with a special item, such as a pendant or stud earrings, to boost the ticket. —DPS

 

(Ring and ribbon photo: Jessica Abad de Gail/Getty Images; gift box photo: Flux Foto/Getty Images)