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Ask INSTORE: September 2010

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Holding off on Christmas, catching scammers, tips for using video on your website, and more.

[h3]Let the Holidays Begin[/h3]

[dropcap cap=Q.][h4][b]Should I try an early Christmas launch this year? What are the pros and cons?[/b][/h4][/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=A.] Some years back, Pete Nordstrom, the president of the eponymous model of good retailing, told the New York Times he believed it was simply good policy to celebrate one holiday at a time. “Part of it is tradition. But I don’t know of anything that we do that gets more favorable customer feedback,” he said of Nordstrom’s refusal to unveil its holiday decorations before Black Friday. David Brown, of the Edge Retail Academy, says a good rule of thumb is to focus all your efforts when the most fish are biting. That would seem to support a later start. In 2008, for example, 19.6 percent of consumers had started doing some holiday shopping as early as September, although only 10.6 percent had done all of it by the Monday after Thanksgiving, according to a National Retail Federation survey. Still not sure what to do? Instead of a full-scale marketing roll-out, introduce a holiday layaway plan and some related specials, which gets people thinking early about Christmas without annoying those who don’t want to reminded about the stresses of gift-buying even before they’ve made it to Columbus Day.  [/dropcap]

[componentheading]SCAM [/componentheading]

[h4][b]A few days ago a finely dressed lady came to my store with a lot of very “expensive” gemstones. She wants me to set up a store show with my best customers, but I have some doubts, because the stones don’t have any certificates. She said the labs did not want to issue any because the stones are so rare and it would be very costly to issue them. What should I do?[/b][/h4]

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Keep well away from this one. It’s got all the makings of a scam, and you could easily lose your best customers forever. Gail Brett Levine, the executive director of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers notes that you have to admire the woman’s audacity but says her story about the certificates doesn’t make sense. “Have you known any lab to turn away work? In this economy? Stay far away!”

[componentheading]RELOCATION [/componentheading]

[h4][b]We are moving our store a couple blocks and are thinking of having a company come in and do a relocation closing event. But we fear it will harm our business. In 14 years we’ve never had a big sale with lots of discounts. I’m wondering if I should do the event myself.[/b][/h4]

The key here is an appreciation that such an event requires a huge amount of planning and preparation. If you feel confident in your promotional abilities then you may want to run it yourself, but if you haven’t done events like this before you’d be better off bringing in a competent outsider. There is a lot more involved to this than sticking a huge “Sale” banner above the store and cutting prices. You’ll need to check local laws regarding what constitutes a “closing sale,” prepare a marketing plan that includes contacting everyone in your customer database as well as placing ads and doing the creative. Then there is working out your financials to ensure everything is marked to at least replacement cost, plus working out what your “super specials” are (perhaps by color code) and segregating and removing the items that aren’t on sale. There’s also the issue of do you bring in memo goods? You may also need to hold a pre-event for your best customers to give them first shot at the discounts, as well as prepare staff and maybe even arrange to get some temp help. And then we start to get into the infinite details like what you will tell customers who ask, “Hey, why don’t you just take your inventory with you?” Done well, such a sale can raise a tremendous amount of cash to support your move. But don’t make the mistake of trying to wing it.

(Editor’s note: This question was posed by Mike Myers and triggered one of the best debates on instoremag.com this year. Read all the suggestions and ideas on what companies to contact at instoremag.com/component/content/article/4145.)

[componentheading] VIDEO [/componentheading]

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[h4][b]I keep reading I should be adding video to my website and even my e-mail bulletins. Yes? No?[/b][/h4]

If you’re adding it because of “new toy syndrome” then no, bad idea. Nothing annoys people like boring video content or slow video streams. And it’s not so new — moving pictures aren’t going to pique many people’s attention anymore. Your rule of thumb should be: Use video when it offers a better experience than text and images can. That could include video testimonials, a nicely produced short on the history of the family business, or perhaps an instructional guide on how to use your website’s “Build-a-ring” feature. And should you need a video producer, start your search at Turnhere.com, a network of thousands of pros who’ll bid for the job.

[componentheading]EVENTS [/componentheading]

[h4][b]I don’t really get the point of events — they’re expensive to hold and seem goofy. I’m a jeweler, not a party organizer. Am I wrong?[/b][/h4]

Yes. Like it or not, the trend in events reflects two changes in retail that aren’t going to go away. The first has to do with consumers wanting an “experience” over just purchasing a good. That kind of emotional connection can come from a lavish party for luxury consumers or the chance to talk serious Swiss movements over a catered dinner for a watch collector. Such events, when done well, also have the added benefit of generating excellent word-of-mouth marketing. The other factor is an awareness, sharpened by the recession, that you have to take care of your core customers. Appreciation parties do this nicely. Oh, and let’s not forget one final consideration: Events can make you a lot of money.

[span class=note]This story is from the September 2010 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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