Every business wants to make each year better than the last, and at Vend, we’re all for helping retailers do exactly that. So for this post, we’ve put together some action steps that you can implement to help make 2017 your best year yet.
Whether last year’s performance could use a lot of improvement, or you did extremely well and want to break your own record, the pointers below will help you kick off the year strong:
1. Upgrade outdated hardware, software, and processes
The holiday season has likely put your equipment and retail software to the test, so now is the perfect time to evaluate them. As Richard Keever, Director of Sales at Infinite Peripherals says, “[this is a great time to] assess your technology. Did it help improve sales conversion? Improve customer experience? Did the absence of the right technology cost sales and frustration with shoppers and employees?
“The answers to these questions can help guide the technology strategy for the following year,” he continued. “You may determine that more mobile devices are needed for line busting. Maybe tablets were needed in some departments where a larger screen size was required. Perhaps the lack of line busting tools caused some customers to walk out without buying. Evaluating at the end of the year while the data is fresh can set you on the right path.”
So have a look at the technologies you have in your business and see if any of them could use an upgrade. If you find that your tools are outdated, take steps to ensure you have the latest version available. This could mean downloading the latest software update or purchasing new equipment.
Upgrading your programs isn’t about having the coolest and newest tools around. It’s about streamlining your operations and improving the customer experience.
For example, if you’re still using physical loyalty cards, you may want to upgrade to a digital loyalty program, so patrons won’t have to carry around cards anymore. Still using spreadsheets or a pen and paper to track your finances? Consider upgrading to a modern accounting software.
Also, note that upgrading your systems is critical to maintaining security. Older programs may be easier to hack into, so keeping those updates in check ensures that you have the latest security measures in place.
Here’s a quick list of things that may need upgrading in your business:
Point-of-sale – If you still have a clunky cash register, you should consider leveling up to a cloud POS system that’s faster, sleeker, and more powerful. Most modern POS systems come with inventory, loyalty, and ecommerce features so you can run multiple aspects of your business from one place.
Loyalty – Modern consumers aren’t big fans of loyalty cards that clutter up their wallets. Address this by implementing a loyalty program that’s built into your POS or that can run on mobile devices.
Finances – Ditch the pen and paper or spreadsheet. Level up to an accounting system that can automatically sync sales, reconcile accounts, and more.
Website – Is your website mobile-friendly? Are you implementing the latest data security measures? Evaluate your online selling efforts and see if you need to update anything.
Inventory – Using a pen and paper to track inventory? Upgrade to a modern inventory software that streamlines item counts, ordering, and more.
Payments – See to it that your payment processing equipment is compliant with the latest security standards. And if it makes sense for your business, consider upgrading to a system that can accept mobile payments such as Apple Pay.
Evaluate your processes
In addition to technology, take time to evaluate re-work your existing processes. Jessica Thiele, Marketing Manager at Virtual Logistics Inc. offers this handy trick that retailers can use to evaluate their process and the strategies:
Grab a ball of yarn or string. Gather everyone in the business who ‘touches’ an order when it comes in, and have the first touchpoint pass the ball to the next person, and the next, and so on until the order is ‘fulfilled’. If you have more than three — yes, three — people touching an order, it’s time to update your business strategy.
“One easy way to reduce the number of touchpoints is to automate your data movements between core applications,” Jessica adds. “Many cloud applications come with pre-built one-to-one integrations to other big applications. If you have customized applications or data fields, you might need to look at hiring an integration partner. In either case, you can automate key data flows and save your business significant headaches for the next major retail holiday.”
2. Get more personal with customers
Expect competition in the marketplace to become even fiercer in 2016, as merchants put more effort into vying for consumers’ attention and dollars. Forward-thinking retailers are upping their game though omnichannel shopping, speedier order fulfillment, and competitive pricing.
And while you should certainly consider implementing the same things in your store, don’t forget that connecting with customers in a personal and relevant way continues to be the best way to get them to know, like, and trust you.
This year, strive to get more personal with shoppers and treat them like the individuals that they are. Here are a few ideas:
Convert gift buyers and recipients into loyal customers
You’ve likely sold to numerous first-time customers in 2016 (particularly during the holiday season when people bought or received your products as gifts). See to it that you have a plan for getting these customers to come back. Chad Rubin, CEO at Skubana advises retailers to set up email nurturing campaigns for first-time buyers so “you can dip back into their wallet.”
Securing the sale from previous buyers will be relatively easy since they already bought from you in the past. As Chad notes, “getting someone to open up their purse is the hardest part of retail, so the step to a second-time buyer is far easier.”
He also recommends using direct mail to re-engage customers. “Direct marketing has been vastly under-utilized as companies have been transitioning to email, so you may consider a postcard in the mail as a way to re-target 2nd-time buyers.”
Ditch the one-size-fits all (aka: batch-and-blast) messages and segment customers according to their demographics, location, and purchase history. This will allow you to send more relevant communications and increase your open rates and sales.
Check out what Canadian vape shop VapeMeet is doing. The retailer segments customers according to location and this allows them to tailor their email campaigns.
“We separate customers into different collections,” shares co-founder Charlie Pisano. “So if we wanted to target just our Ontario customers, we can. Or, if we wanted to do a special in Quebec and send emails in French, we can accomplish that easily as well.”
Personalize your loyalty efforts
Candy retailer United Sweets personalizes their content and offers by integrating their POS and customer management system (Vend) with their loyalty software (Collect).
Doing so allows them to gather data about their customers and customize content and offers accordingly.
“We know who [our customers] are, we know what they’re buying, and we can reach out to them and market to them in a really relevant way,” shares United Sweets’ Finn Puklowski. He furthers that their loyalty system allows them to recognize their best customers so they can offer perks like better pricing and rewards.
Send good old fashioned personal notes
Never underestimate the power of thoughtful gestures like notes—old fashioned as they may seem. These days, consumers find it refreshing to receive handwritten letters instead of emails.
Have a look at what T-We Tea in San Francisco did. I placed an order through their website, and to my surprise (and delight), I saw a handwritten note included in the package.
3. Give employees a pep talk
It’ll be challenging to achieve record-breaking success if you don’t have your employees backing you up, so set aside some time for a motivational speech. Recognize the great things that people achieved in 2016, and encourage—or even incentivize—them to do better. Why not offer rewards to your associates who bring the most delight to customers?
And if you have any plans on how to increase performance in 2017 (i.e. upgrades, new initiatives), make sure your team is in the loop. You may also want to take suggestions and get everyone’s input on how to improve results.
4. Get a retail promotional calendar
Lack of planning and organization is one of the top reasons why retail promotions fail. This year, prevent that from happening by arming yourself with a promotional calendar.
Flip through your 2017 calendar and mark important holidays and shopping events. This will allow you to plan ahead and ensure that your promotions run smoothly. Need inspiration? A quick Google search for “retail promotional calendar” should give you some ideas.
5. Introduce additional sales channels
Get all your sales channels covered by ensuring that shoppers can buy from you no matter where they are or what device they’re using.
For a lot of retailers, this could mean setting up ecommerce and mobile websites. If you haven’t done so yet, start selling online and on-the-go through a hosted ecommerce solution. Why not try Vend Ecommerce, which allows brick-and-mortar retailers to easily set up shop on the web?
If you already have brick-and-mortar, ecommerce, and mobile covered, it may behoove you to start selling on social media. Many retailers, especially those in the apparel industry, are turning to sites like Instagram and Facebook to sell their merchandise.
Check out TopShelf Style, which used a social selling solution called Soldsie to turn Instagram into a sales channel. TopShelf posts product photos on the social network, and customers who want to purchase items would simply have to comment “SOLD” with their email address. TopShelf will then send an invoice and proceed to checkout.
Make sure your sales channels are connected
If you’re selling on different channels, now is the time to make sure that they’re connected and are able to work together. For instance, if you’re selling online and offline, you may want implement in-store pickup (aka click-and-collect) so your online customers can simply swing by your store to pick up their orders.
6. Do your inventory
If you haven’t stayed on top of your inventory in 2016, then January is the perfect time to do a physical inventory count. Why? The beginning of the year is usually a period when your SKUs are at their lowest.
Schedule an inventory count soon and get your inventory levels updated. For best results, get organized by mapping your store and make use of a digital inventory system when counting items.
And you may want to implement cycle counting, which is the process of partially counting items on a continuous basis. This helps you stay on top of your inventory without having to close your store or devote too much time counting your entire inventory.
7. Update company information and bios if necessary
Did you receive any awards or were featured in the media in 2016? Or perhaps your business introduced something major last year (i.e. new store openings, new products, etc)? If so, be sure to update your website, social accounts, and marketing collateral accordingly.
If you feature the brands that you sell on your website, for instance, see to it that the hottest brands are included. Or if you got a nice write-up in a major publication, display it on your site and physical store.
How are you planning to make 2017 your best year yet? Tell us in the comments!
If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out our free ebook, Retail Survival of the Fittest.
This book serves as your practical guide to modern-day retail success. Learn how to use mobile technology, big data, and other digital tools to improve your brick-and-mortar store and ensure that it is well-equipped to engage and convert today’s savvy shoppers.
About Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.