3 tips to ensure you get your share of the dollars this season

Walmart is opening even earlier this Thanksgiving evening – in an effort to lure your potential shoppers away from their naps on the couch and the football games on their big-screen TVs. Walmart has announced that its stores will open this year at 8 p.m. instead of 10 p.m., as they did last year. Is your small or medium-size West Palm Beach business ready to compete? When I was in junior high school and high school, my family would go to Kmart (before Walmart expanded out of Arkansas) the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day. Shopping as a family when I grew up was not a sport. These days, I know families who shop together all the time: They load up the family and go to “the mall” for an entire afternoon. That is not something my family ever did; we weren’t shoppers. So when my family went to Kmart on Thanksgiving Day, it was simply a way for Mom to get an advance start on her holiday shopping.

I am not a big shopper, and my mother was even less so. She taught me that shopping was meaningful when you made your shopping list, carried it into the store, bought what you had on the list, checked out and then left. I recall strolling the aisles, wandering aimlessly around the store, not even knowing where to look first. Should I look at the stereos, baseball gloves, tennis shoes, or go straight to the tool aisle with Dad? So it’s been really surprising to me, in the last several years, that the news media are making such a big deal out of Thanksgiving-eve shopping. After all, Walmart is what Kmart used to be.

Hence, let me talk to you, Mr. and Ms. Local Retailer – our local West Palm Beach retailers … How can you compete against Walmart, since you won’t likely be lured into its modus operandi of opening your store on Thanksgiving eve? Keep reading.

1)    Set yourself apart from the “big-box” stores. You know how to do this; you do it every day. Don’t be afraid to get creative in your stores during this holiday season. You want neighbors telling neighbors about you, your store and its selection this season. You want to be known for your specialized goods and services. Being creative is not putting a blow-up Santa out in the parking lot. It is creating a warm and inviting shopping environment for your customers. Tip No. 1 – offer your customers something for entering your doors, whether it’s a cup of coffee, holiday cookie, free ornament, or an entry in a prize drawing to be given on December 26. Then thank them for coming. Surprise them. They will tell others.

2)    Define your price-matching policy. Whether you do it in your printed ad, an insert, sign on your door, or website, let your customers know, in advance, what your price-matching policies are – especially for Black Friday. Wouldn’t you, as a shopper, rather go to a smaller retailer, with good parking and friendly sales associates, than fight the crowds on Black Friday? Tip No. 2 – be transparent, and make it easier to shop in your store. Define your policy and be open about it. Your patrons will tell others.

3)     Staff your store at appropriate levels. Nothing is more annoying these days than standing in line. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy standing in line and will often not go into a store where I know that it is surely going to happen. So staff-up, keep all your registers open and going, train your associates in “Nordstrom-quality” customer service. Thenexceed that, and your store will thrive this year during the busy shopping season.

This is especially important for those ever-busy two-income households with kids. These folks have very limited time and so will bounce into your store during their lunch hour, or on the way home from work, or before they get to work, so make sure your staff is ready and willing to help when they cross your doors. Tip No. 3 – surprise your customers while they’re in your store. Have you invested in hand-held check-out devices like the Mac store? Maybe you should. If you get your patrons in and out quickly (if that’s what they want, of course), they will tell others. No one during the holiday season has extra time.

This is always an exciting season for our area. Our West Palm Beach market is ripe for you to earn your share of the holiday shopping dollars. Our West Palm Beach market has pent-up demand this season. Make your store stand out from the crowd. Look for more holiday tips here, soon.

written by: Suzanne Pepper