'Tis the season to prepare: Christmas 2011
Crank up the air con and start thinking snowfall. Kate Donovan looks at how preparation is your polar express to a very merry Christmas in 2011.
For the past few Christmases visions of sugar plums have been superseded by the reality of cash-cautious consumers tightening the purse strings. Shoppers stranded in knee-deep snow have added to the woe, causing scenes of chaos on a par with Jack Skellington’s attempts to take over the festive period in The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The good news is that many jewellery retailers reported that the adverse weather, coupled with drained household incomes has, in general, not had a catastrophic impact on Christmas
trade. This resilience is largely down to advanced preparation and, while you are probably still in suncream and sangria mode, Christmas should already be on your mind to ensure the key trading period runs as smoothly as possible.
While you no doubt have everything crossed that the heavy snowfall of the past few years stays at bay, if it does fall it doesn’t have to mean terrible trading.
“[The weather] hasn’t really affected us to be honest with you,” says Steffan’s the Jewellers managing director Steff Suter. “All you can do is understand that we live in a world now where one day the weather can be 32°C, the next day 10°C lower, and at Christmas the same rules apply. You just have to deal with it.”
And deal with it the industry has - in stoic fashion - with tales from some jewellers, which give you a warm, fireside-story feeling, about committed employees wrapping up and braving walks of up to two hours in the snow to make it into work when other colleagues were unable to conquer the elements.
Although the weather is beyond your control, there are a few measures you can take to ensure it has minimum impact on the running of your business.
Forum of Private Business senior policy adviser Phil McCabe says that, because of the potential for winter conditions preventing staff getting to work, it is worth making links with
local recruitment agencies. “Then they are ready to supply you with temporary local staff at short notice if necessary,” he explains.
On top of staff complications, a drop in footfall is one of the snow’s other worrying legacies, a concern compounded by shoppers still erring on the side of financial caution. Despite retailers such as Steffan’s remaining resilient to reduced high street spending, retailers are still, to varying degrees, feeling the impact of the most severe recession we’ve had for several generations. “Although it has probably slightly improved recently, I do think consumer confidence is going to be slightly depleted relative to previous Christmas periods,” says McCabe.
The result of careful spending means retailers need to be more savvy and imaginative with their design and brand decisions so that they stand out this Christmas. “Because times are tough everyone is raising their game, so we are looking at delivering new and exciting brands,” says Nigel Dunn, head of buying and retail at two-store Lincoln retailer John Greed. This year the retailer has been to Las Vegas, Basel and Inhorgenta trade shows to find brands that will draw in the crowds this Christmas.
Although you can’t control the weather, or the overall economy, there are key areas where being prepared can help expel those nightmares before Christmas.
We’ve all seen the Christmas cards of children staring wishfully through snow-rimmed shop windows, lured by twinkling lights and festive scenes. This year, while some shoppers will be aiming to visit as few stores as possible to escape freezing conditions, it is more important than ever that your windows make your store stand out and entice shoppers inside.
“The shop window plays a crucial role in catching the eye, grabbing attention, fuelling the imagination and drawing shoppers in,” says Richard Ash, chief executive and founder of retail design company Green Room. “Standing out during this busiest time of the shopping calendar is more critical than ever.”
Large department stores set a high standard for displays. Selfridges windows and concepts manager Sarah McCullough says: “The Christmas period is the most buoyant and exciting time of year for us, so it is essential that the festivities are marked with incredible window and store installations.”
Department stores are also often among those retailers that don’t necessarily go for the traditional.
This year Steffan’s the Jewellers is floodlighting the outside of its corner building with brand names. “We are telling people what we are doing basically, it will be in a movie format,” says Suter. He is also thinking commercially to counter the high cost. “I’m hoping to sell some advertising space on it,” he says.
At retailer John Greed the Christmas displays will also be sure to turn heads. “We like the flagship store to have a nightclub feel to it and this year with our displays we are going to continue that theme with huge revolving glitter balls in the window that we’ll angle the lights on,” says Dunn. “I also want some laser displays, either on the wall opposite or the floor outside with our logo.”
But if you can’t afford an all-singing, all-dancing display then some careful product placement and lighting can go a long way to attract shoppers. “As a general rule of thumb I always think the more creative you are, the less money you have to spend,” says Dunn. “Just try to make it eye-catching and different.”
Ash agrees that a huge budget is not essential for an effective window. “Windows don’t have to be expensive, but the ideas have to be smart. Invest in design and creative thought over and above fixtures and fittings,” he says.
For London boutique Gilda’s Tryst, ensuring the jewellery remains in the spotlight is essential. Last year it was able to do this on a budget by buying deer antlers off eBay, spraying them silver and draping them with jewellery. “We have done all our displays on a limited budget,” says co-founder and co-designer Shireen Jayyusi. “We strongly believe tight budgets don’t impact creativity. Sometimes the tighter the budget the more creative you have to be.”
At Harrods, which is famous for its window displays, finding a balance between showcasing luxury goods and offering a seasonal display is essential, says store image director Mark Briggs. “We choose themes that work not only aesthetically, but also allow us to seamlessly weave products into the display.
“Last Christmas, we had a Peter Pan theme, which encapsulated hidden treasures, and this had a particularly relevant association to jewellery. The theme allowed us to place product from jewellery brands we sell, including Theo Fennell and Stephen Webster, into our displays, while also using our advertising windows to showcase major brands including Dior, Cartier and Hermès.”
As well as making the most of window displays, remember packaging is going to send a message to whoever sees it beyond the shopfloor, including the receiver. Designer and boutique owner Joanna Dahdah provides special Christmas packaging, which not only looks attractive, but is ideal for male shoppers who aren’t willing to wrap.
If your staff will go that extra mile to battle the elements and make it into work against all the odds, it’s only fair that they have received specific Christmas training to help them make the most of their time on the shopfloor.
Taking staff training very seriously, Steffan’s has just opened a training academy in its Northampton branch.
As well as a dedicated training room, it has invested in further industry training for one member of staff, who now trains other team members on a full-time basis. “Extra training for Christmas is important for improving your turnover,” says Suter. “You want to make sure that staff don’t become supermarket checkout servers and just put the product through the till. There is a danger when you’re selling volume that this can happen.”
At jewellery giant Signet, Christmas training starts early. Strengthening core customer service starts in summer using the ‘coach approach’. This involves managers giving teams instant feedback on transactions using a ‘one thing to keep and one thing to change’ method.
“This means managers give encouragement for the positive things staff did during customer interaction and ask them how they would improve and change what they did next time,” explains Signet stores director Kevin Ryan.
As well as the need for brilliant product knowledge, staff should be prepared for increased customer numbers. “You have to train people to step up a gear in terms of how many people they serve because at Christmas it’s another world,” says Dunn. However, that should not be to the detriment of exceptional customer service, he adds.
Additional training is also helpful for retailers hoping to gain the confidence of a new audience and for those customers who need extra advice. “Men buying gifts for women is important over the Christmas period and we find that it helps for staff to be trained to ask men the right questions, helping them reach a decision that they are confident about,” says Jayyusi.
While staff work hard to get their sales and service skills right over the festive period, many retailers reward their employees with a Christmas lunch. Some retailers are going that extra
mile and also combine rewards with heightened productivity.
As well as offering a store commission, retailer John Greed runs games and incentives for staff, and at Christmas this takes the form of an advent calendar. Each day the calendar details a certain target and a reward for whoever achieves it first, whether it is monetary, jewellery based, a gift voucher or otherwise. “So that different people get a chance to win, the target changes each day, so it could be the largest sale that day or the most number of items on one receipt,” explains Dunn. “It makes it fun for the staff. It keeps it lively, keeps it changing and it gives everyone a chance.”
Incentivising your customers is also important during the festive period, and that can involve going beyond discounts. Last year Gilda’s Tryst held a party called Rock Your Chocolate Cherry and all the invited guests received luxury rum in dark chocolate cups, goodie bags and enjoyed some music. “Customers remember these events and we had people coming back
months later with memories of the party and the amazing chocolate cherries,” says Jayyusi. As well as entertaining customers, the party encouraged shopping with a one-night-only Christmas discount.
Christmas is a time for gifts, and jewellery is the perfect present. And, while people are feeling particularly generous, it is time to maximise on sales.
Often the best way of making additional sales is by arming staff with maximum product knowledge, which is the aim at Signet. Specific Christmas product training starts with a store manager conference in September, when buyers explain the forthcoming festive season’s product selection to the store managers. “Armed with brochures, notes and internal magazines, store managers download their product learnings to their teams before the products come into store,” says Ryan.
Nathalie Kabiri, owner of London jeweller Kabiri, usually gives her staff a list of potential presents, dividing them into different price brackets. Kabiri also advocates the boss being visible at Christmas. “I try to be on the shopfloor as much as possible during Christmas to inspire the staff and customers,” she says. “I like to share my knowledge of the designers
I stock and their inspiration.”
At Steffan’s the Jewellers staff training is an essential part of increasing sales at Christmas.
“It is about the staff knowing that there are products that line up very well with the piece the consumer has purchased and making sure in every bag we hand out there is a catalogue,” says Suter.
Also enhancing the customer experience, Suter says he is in talks with Hotel Chocolat for the chocolatier to have a presence in its Northampton store in time for Christmas, so that shoppers can buy chocolate to go with their jewellery purchases.
And link selling isn’t limited to bricks and mortar. “If you are on our website it shows the products that go with the one you have looked at too,” says Suter.
Concerns about heavy snowfall stopping people hitting the high street are likely to give ever increasing online sales an even bigger boost this Christmas.
Having resources in place to ensure customer satisfaction and that delivery promises are fulfilled goes without saying, and, as well as that, making your website stand out will be crucial.
Steffan’s the Jewellers has just put a feature on its website that allows customers to alert a friend about a product they like via Facebook, a great opportunity to give loved ones a
present wish list. The forward-thinking retailer also has plans to produce a Steffan’s TV blog telling people what is available at Christmas. All of these elements give the retailer a personality and help compound the brand.
Last year, jewellery brand Alex Monroe debuted its 12 Days of Christmas, where different limited edition pieces were made available through an advent calendar set-up. “We didn’t establish it from a sales point of view,” says Alex Monroe sales and press manager Emma Burgin. “We always see our website as a great way for our customers to really connect with the brand.”
While gimmicks and features are important, so too is deciding which products take centre stage on your website’s home page - a form of shop window in itself.
“Being totally ruthless about it, the best-selling products will get prominence on our home page at Christmas,” says Suter.
John Greed is relaunching its website later this year and the key brands will be most prominent there too. The retailer is also keen to give the website a bit of a Christmas makeover. “Even right down to the John Greed lion wearing a Santa hat,” says Dunn. “It all creates a sense of drama and fun. We look down every avenue possible to create a Christmas feel, it’s such and important time of year.”
When thinking about whether to add some Christmas decoration to the look of your website at Christmas, Alex Gregory-Peake of specialist jewellery consultancy Auric says there should be synergy between the website and the store, and that the buyer journey through both channels should reflect the same brand experience. “The same principle should be carried out when it comes to seasonal promotions,” she says. “If you adopt a subtle Christmas approach in-store, this should be represented online. Marrying the two will help you maintain a consistent brand image and ultimately give you brand longevity.”
Investing time and resources into training, window displays and an online presence is futile if you don’t shout about it. Gregory-Peake says that marketing is very important in the run-up to Christmas. “You need to be sure your database is accurate and up to date, and be organised with your communication. It shouldn’t be left until the last minute.
“Whether you Facebook, blog, tweet, email blast or mail-out - whatever your chosen communication channel - think about it in advance and make it interesting and professional in
appearance,” she adds.
All the leading retailers agree that, whatever your Christmas action plan, preparation for retail’s boom period can’t start early enough. “I do believe that we will have an outstanding Christmas and really the year after Christmas is all about preparing for the next one,” says Suter.
So step away from the barbecue and the pina coladas and start thinking about how to make Christmas 2011 your most profitable festive period yet.