Your holiday merchandising guide: Covid edition

By Denise Walsh, Senior Advisor, Campus Advisory Services

For retailers, it’s already time to begin thinking about the end of the semester and the holidays. And, as we know, normal end-of-semester activities and holiday shopping will look different this year due to the coronavirus. To ready your store for a successful holiday season, follow these merchandising best practices and marketing tips.

Create a cause component. This year, have a servant heart and think about what your store can do to give back and help others who are struggling. Shoppers will likely be drawn to spending money that supports a cause. Consider supporting a specific student or campus group or department with a percentage of sales. Spur interest by involving those student groups or departments: for every person from the organization who makes a purchase within a certain timeframe, your store will support the specified group with a percentage of overall sales. Spur interest by involving those student groups or departments: for every person that mentions the organization when making a purchase within a certain timeframe, your store will support the specified group with a percentage of overall sales.

Prepare now (AKA earlier than normal!). This year shoppers will be shopping earlier and big retailers like Amazon and Target are already jumping on that trend. Because in-person gatherings will be limited, more people will be purchasing tangible gifts and shipping them to recipients. And, with shipping carriers already experiencing high-demand, the need to ship early is heightened.

Connect with your customers virtually. Your students, staff, faculty and community shoppers are likely missing the in-person retail experiences they’re used to. As a solution, think about how your store can create virtual shopping experiences through social media and on your website. Offer live social feeds highlighting your gift ideas or consider orchestrating some private shopping experiences for those who do want to shop in-store but still want to socially distance themselves.

Focus on your web presence. We repeat: focus on your web presence. Make sure general merchandise is listed online and featured as you would in store. It’s equally as important to think about online merchandising as in-store. Also, ensure the online shopping process is easy from searching and adding items to the cart to your checkout process. Create a journey for your customer to select a “gift idea” and target them to either a demographic, lifestyle or budget. Eliminate all barriers for your shoppers.

Create a (virtual) gift table. Provide gift ideas online, just as you would with in-store set ups. Make sure your virtual table tells a story to help customers make selections. Theme ideas could be: gifts for $25 or less; stocking stuffers or gifts for mom, dad and family members; tangible items instead of experiences; items for the home, office, kitchen or outdoors where people are spending more time; spirit gear for fans missing their in-person collegiate sporting events.

Monitor sales data. Check in regularly to detect fast and slow sellers. If there’s time, reorder merchandise selling quickly and ensure all stock is online or on the sales floor. Be creative about marketing your promotions to reach your audience digitally. Take advantage of social media and email marketing to drive sales to your website.

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