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Preparing Your Business for Holiday Shopping

It’s not too early to prepare for the holiday season. Right now, your competitors are ordering holiday inventory, and the best items usually go to the earliest buyers. There are a number of inventory level tracking steps you can take now to make your holiday season more successful.  
  1. Review your credit resources. You will likely spend extra money on seasonal decorations, holiday advertising and promotion, expanded inventory offerings and aggressive markdowns. Make sure you have access to lines of credit and loans. Also, have your purchase contracts with vendors set and ready to go.
  2. You’ll be expecting greater volume during the year’s last quarter, but your customers will be expecting great deals. Go through your inventory list and determine which items to feature in sales and the size of discounts.
  3. Shoppers are still feeling the effects of the underperforming economy. Take the time to scout around for new inventory that will excite and challenge their imaginations. Make sure your inventory management systems are set up to purchase, record, and track new inventory items and new vendors.

  4. Stock up on items you know will be popular. You are competing with others who have the same idea. This makes it all the more important to get your orders in early, explore alternate sources and substitute items, and prepare your warehouse and/or stock rooms for extra volume.
  5. Secure your advertising channels early. The discounts go fast; you want to make sure you lock in good rates in the channels that work best for your business. Experiment with novel methods, like billboard walkers and free-sample kiosks. Radio is very cost-effective. Hokey TV ads sometimes work well, while other times they just look, well, hokey.
  6. Don’t skimp on holiday spirit. You’ll need three complete resets for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Music, decorations, targeted discounts, and specialized inventory help customers feel inclined to buy. Give prominent space to loss leaders and impulse buys.
  7. Monitor for stockouts. You never know when a holiday item will suddenly become hot. Keep track of your inventory levels and quickly reorder extra quantities of surprise sellers.
  8. All hands on deck. While you might need to beef up staff for the holidays, the heavy lifting still falls upon your permanent employees. Make them understand how vital to your business’ success during the holidays. This will probably mean long hours and extra shifts. Create incentives for overtime that motivate without breaking the bank. Your sales staff and inventory handlers should plan for extra work and not take vacations during the holidays.
  9. Train and retrain. Some activities pick up during the holiday season, such as gift-wrapping, storewide sales, midnight hours and gift returns. Everyone needs to know their roles, especially temporary hires. You might be rearranging your display space and shelves several times during the season. Make sure everyone knows where the inventory goes and what the day’s specials are.
  10. Get modern. Are you exploiting the Internet to its maximum potential? If you’re not familiar with Facebook, Twitter and other popular sites, hire someone to show you. Better yet, engage a media consulting company to integrate all your marketing efforts - online and in the real world.
  11. Optimize your virtual storefront. If you are selling online, it’s important to integrate your perpetual inventory system with your web pages so you can quickly pull out-of-stock items and add new merchandise. You don’t want to allocate valuable screen space to items you can’t deliver in time for a holiday. Make sure your online and conventional sales remain in sync -- sale items and special deals should receive prominent visibility in both venues on the same days.
  12. Upgrade your shipping. How quickly are you getting inventory out the door? Are you adequately staffed? Is your shipping dock tracking items electronically? Do you offer enhanced shipping options and overnight delivery on demand? The package carriers are always competing with each other. Check out who offers the fastest, most reliable service for the lowest cost. Don’t be shocked if your first choice turns out to be the U.S. Postal Service.
Don’t feel it’s too late to make improvements in time for the holidays. You can adopt many of these and other suggestions very quickly. Don’t forget, you can always apply the lessons learned this year to next year’s holiday season. Happy holidays!