The 12 Ways of Christmas

We’ve spent a combined 47 Christmases in fine jewelry retail – and eagerly anticipated each one. Yet we know that many sales associates, managers and even owners spend more time stressing over the holidays than enjoying them. Over the years as sales trainers and consultants, we’ve developed a list of ways to help you get through your busiest and most important time of the year. As our holiday gift, we offer: “The 12 Ways of Christmas.”

1. Be prepared

If this is your first Christmas selling fine jewelry, you may be surprised to learn that your company does about 40% of its business between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. That’s why management spends months preparing for this critical time – hiring and training new staff members, buying and displaying new merchandise, creating and running advertising campaigns, perhaps even sprucing up the store.

Now it’s your turn. How well prepared are you to maximize every sales opportunity during these very important weeks? To find out, answer the following questions honestly:

  • Are you thoroughly familiar with the merchandise and product lines you will be selling?

  • Can you answer customers’ product questions accurately and with confidence?

  • Do you know which lines can be special-ordered and the deadlines for placing such orders?

  • Can you find such things as backstocked merchandise, tools, equipment and supplies when you need them?

  • Do you understand company policy on returns, layaways and warranties?

  • Are you familiar with the company’s goals and marketing strategies?

  • Do your family and friends accept the hours you’ll be working or realize that you’ll come home tired, needing some real understanding and cooperation?

2. Use your client book

If you are one of those wise sales associates who keeps a client book, you’ve spent all year filling it with information that can help you increase holiday sales. Since you’ve kept track of the purchases, preferences, tastes and desires of your customers and those for whom they buy, you’re ready to make the phone calls that will start them thinking about how you can fulfill their Christmas shopping needs. (For detailed suggestions on how to build a client list and keep them coming back, see JCK, August 1997, “Prospecting for Gold,” p. 98.)

3. Manage your time

What’s the most precious commodity you’ll deal with this holiday season? Fine diamonds? Rare gemstones? Glittering gold? No. The true answer is “time.”

The lull between customers often is referred to as downtime, but there is no downtime during the holidays. Even when you’re not waiting on someone, you must be productive. Good customer service requires that you use every spare moment to keep up with non-selling responsibilities. Customers expect you to return telephone calls promptly and follow up on their repairs, special orders and requests for information. You also have paperwork to complete and display, merchandising and housekeeping duties to perform.

Daily disciplined time management will give customers the good service they expect and you the peace of mind of knowing that you’re up-to-date on your responsibilities.

4. Stress teamwork

The concept of working as a team isn’t unique to this time of year; its benefits are felt every day. But teamwork becomes even more important as holiday pressures increase and every job has a Dec. 24 due date.

Sales associates should remember that the office staff must work through more sales tickets, deposit more money, process more merchandise and handle more phone calls than at any other time of year. Goldsmiths, watchmakers, bookkeepers and office personnel, in turn, should remember the added stress this season puts on the sales staff. As at every other time of year, sales associates should help each other achieve the company’s goals. Completing a sale for a coworker who has the day off, for example, should be a pleasure, not a chore.

Kind words and helpful deeds will make everyone’s holiday more pleasant and productive.

5. Handle the rush

Whatever the size of your store, there always are moments when customers outnumber sales associates. Customers know they must vie for attention when they shop during the holiday season. Most understand that they may not be served the instant they enter a store and accept it as long as they’ve been assured that someone will be with them as soon as possible.

When a wave of customers comes in, don’t panic. First, acknowledge a customer, then summon all available sales associates to the floor. If you’re truly overwhelmed, call on jewelers, bookkeepers and other non–sales personnel as well. Many of these folks are knowledgeable enough to help customers. Even if they can’t answer questions, they can make a customer comfortable until a sales associate becomes available. This is where the Fourth Way of Christmas – Teamwork – really comes into play. Everyone helps each other in whatever way they can for the good of the company.

6. Don’t waste time

We often are asked: “How do you handle the customer who truly is ‘just looking’ when other customers are waiting to be helped?” Every situation is different. But in most cases, when you are sure that the customer you’re helping is not ready to make a decision, it is perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself politely and move on to the next one.

Perhaps you’ve spent 20 minutes with Mrs. Smith, who gives you the clear impression that she has no intention of buying today. Meantime, several other customers await your attention. Reassure her (a pat on the back of her hand may be appropriate) that you’ll be at her service as soon as she needs you. Say, “Mrs. Smith, I’m sure you’ll understand if I step away for a few moments to help these folks. Please continue to look and I’ll be back with you shortly.” It’s Christmas, you’re busy and as much as you want to spend time with Mrs. Smith, good business sense dictates that you move on to the waiting customers.

One of these customers, Mr. Jones, can’t decide which of two gold bracelets his wife would prefer. The clock is ticking, other customers are waiting, you know he will choose one eventually, but he seems to need a little nudge. Don’t be afraid to suggest you think that Mrs. Jones would prefer one bracelet over the other.

Then hustle over to the man who needs a watch battery that the jeweler can’t install now. On a sleepy Tuesday in July, you would sit down at the bench and install that battery yourself. But this is a Saturday in December and the store is filled with people. If you handle this situation correctly, your customer will understand that the battery cannot be installed while he waits, but you’ll have it done as soon as possible and call when the watch is ready.

Apply common sense whenever such situations occur. Ask yourself, “What’s the best decision for the company in this scenario?” You’ll usually be right and the customer will be satisfied.

7. Sell romance

How fortunate we are to deal with a product that represents love, excitement, fun and passion, commemorates occasions and creates future memories. It’s always important to sell the romance of jewelry, but even more so at holiday time.

Reserve technical information for answering specific customer questions. When you show a diamond ring, it’s far more meaningful to talk about the excitement the gift will generate on Christmas morning than about how many facets the diamond has. If you are genuinely passionate about the product you sell and what it represents, most customers will soon share that excitement.

8. Speed up your selling style

Are you a retail chameleon? To protect themselves, chameleons change colors to blend with their surroundings. Retail chameleons adjust their sales styles to fit their customers and their environment.

If, for example, you normally spend a lot of time greeting and getting to know customers, you no doubt realize some adjustments are needed at very busy times of the year. Service won’t suffer if you shorten your greeting and probing process in order to take care of your customer more efficiently. In fact, by getting to the next customer more quickly, you’ll actually improve service.

When asking your probing questions, block out any distractions and concentrate on the answers. Being a good listener will help you sell the right merchandise the first time and reduce post-holiday returns. Here are a few tips to help you sell more:

  • Always start at the top. When a customer has a particular category of merchandise in mind but mentions no specific price range, begin by showing one of the more expensive pieces in the collection. They’ll let you know if they want to see something less expensive. Don’t assume that the customer cannot afford a heavier or better-quality item, or that just because you can’t afford something, a customer can’t either. This isn’t pushy or high-pressure selling; it is customer service at its best.

  • Always sell up. Sometimes a customer will request an advertised or promotional piece. Never hide the item or attempt to discourage the customer from buying it. But simultaneously bring out a similar style in a finer quality or heavier weight. This, again, is excellent customer service; you are educating the customer as to options. For only a few dollars more per month, he may leave with the more expensive item – and he will leave happy.

  • Sell value. We’re often asked how to deal with the customer who says, “But Joe’s Jewelers is having a 50%-off sale!” or “I’m sure I saw it at a bigger discount somewhere else.” This is common in today’s anything goes market – especially with TV shopping networks and the Internet.

Take the time to educate your customer. Everyone needs a reason to buy and the comfort that comes from knowing that they didn’t overpay. Tell your quality story, talk about the benefits of the piece and your company’s history and reputation. Customers understand that everyone in business is entitled to a reasonable profit – and that no one can give extraordinary discounts off regularly priced items and stay in business very long.

9. Sell add-ons

During this very busy season, as you rush from one customer to the next, you may miss the opportunity to sell more merchandise to each. Once again, there need be no pushiness or high pressure involved. You are simply providing good service – and giving yourself the chance to earn more money. Here are some recommendations:

  • Once a customer has made one purchase, remind him/her about other people on their shopping list. A woman who comes in to buy a watch for her husband often won’t be thinking that many of your items would make excellent gifts for other family members, friends and service providers.

  • Don’t miss the opportunity to sell a coordinating item. If a customer has selected a black onyx ring for her husband, recommend a watch with a black dial to complement the ring. She will appreciate the suggestion; even if she doesn’t purchase the watch for Christmas, you’ve planted the seed for a future gift-giving occasion.

  • Suggest she’s done such a good job choosing his gift that she deserves something special for herself. Present a new item that coordinates with an article of jewelry or clothing she’s wearing. If she doesn’t purchase it today, she may put it on her wish list so that someone else will buy it for her.

10. Serve the customer

Making customer service one of “The 12 Ways of Christmas” doesn’t mean you should consider it an optional component. In fact, customer service comprises part of every one of these 12 ways – and is a way of life 365 days a year for successful salespeople.

Most fine jewelry retailers carry similar merchandise, offer similar credit plans and have similar giftwrap. Why, then, should a customer choose to shop in your store? The answer is you. People make the difference when it comes to customer service.

Sometimes a jaded retailer tells us that customer loyalty is dead, that people will change jewelers simply to save a dollar. We don’t buy into that theory for a moment. Success in fine jewelry retail still comes down to creating a relationship with your customers that is built on trust and makes them feel at home every time they visit your store. When you achieve that level of rapport, you won’t lose customers to a competitor for that dollar.

Stressful as the holiday season may be for you, remember that it is pressure-packed for your customers, too. They also have lots to do and little time to do it, yet it remains a very special season for them and their families. They are excited about buying gifts and surprising their loved ones on Christmas morning. When we latch onto that excitement, when we make customers feel they are the most important people in our life during the time we spend together, when we help them leave our store with a warm feeling, we have achieved our goal. We have given service that will bring customers back again and again.

11. Have fun

You’ve worked hard all year, in large part preparing for this most important season. If you regard the next few weeks as a chore, you’ll not only spoil your own holiday season, but depress your family, coworkers and customers, as well.

Make the shopping experience fun. Keep Christmas music playing. Have refreshments on hand to help set the mood and occupy customers while they’re waiting. Decorate the store to reflect the joy of the season. And as you travel to work each day, motivate yourself by thinking about those future memories you’ll help create for every customer you serve.

12. Maintain balance

Take care of yourself. Emotions run high at this time of year. You face goals at work as well as at home. You must give it everything you’ve got at the store – and do your own shopping and cooking, attend the kids’ holiday concerts, go to parties, prepare for out-of-town visitors and get the cards mailed.

Maintain a balance. Prepare “To Do” lists. Prioritize your responsibilities and don’t overcommit. You’ve gotten through Christmases past and you’ll get through this one, too. Be happy, stay healthy and accept our wishes for a very joyous holiday season and a great ’98!

Anzell & Levenson are sales trainers and consultants in the fine jewelry retail industry. For information regarding their custom-designed sales seminars, sales training manual or jewelry-specific client record keeping books, contact Anzell & Levenson, P.O. Box 921, Pleasanton, CA 94566–0921. (800) 887–8902.