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 2018 your best year yet.
Whether last year’s performance could use a lot of improvement, or you did exceptionally 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 Upgrade outdated hardware, software, and processes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 If you find that your tools are outdated, take steps to ensure you have the latest version available.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 most recent 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 2018, 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 the 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 2017, 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 2018 (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.
Looking for more tips to motivate your retail employees? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Training and Motivating Retail Employees, an in-depth resource packed with actionable takeaways for motivating employees and boosting staff productivity.
This free resource is chock-full of advice and insights that can help you empower your staff and increase your store’s productivity. Specifically, you’ll learn about:
- Hiring and training retail employees
- Using a mix of learning tools to improve staff knowledge
- Inspiring team members to be top performers
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 2018 calendar and mark essential 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 to 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 stock catalog.
7. Update company information, listings, and bios if necessary
Did you receive any awards or were featured in the media in 2017? 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.
You should also revisit your business listing on Google, Yelp, and other websites to make sure that your information is accurate and updated. Again, this is a great time to bring those profiles up to date by adding/editing your business info and uploading new photos.
8. Cook up compelling in-store experiences
Like we said in our 2018 Retail Trends and Predictions report, buying commodities will be a lot more streamlined (thanks to players like Amazon) this year. However, the experiential side of retail — the part that involves discovering great products and socializing with others — won’t be going away.
People will still make their way to physical stores, not because they want to “buy stuff,” but because they want to get experiences that they won’t find anywhere else.
What does that mean for you? If you’re running a brick-and-mortar store, you need to ensure that people who walk into your space find unique and compelling experiences.
Now, the right “experience” will vary, depending on your business. But some retailers are finding success with the following:
- Providing amazing customer service. Warm, welcoming, and intelligent retail employees are hard to find. That’s why if you can inspire your employees to bring their best selves to work and go above and beyond for your customers, you’ll effectively bring your store experience to the next level. Now, doing all that starts with investing in your workforce. Strive to be an attractive place to work by creating a fantastic store environment and by treating (and paying) your employees well.
- Bringing a sense of community through events and classes. For instance, Lululemon holds yoga classes in-store.
- Offering a “treasure hunt” experience, in which you enable shoppers to discover interesting products at great prices. TJX does this really well. The retail store is always changing up their assortments while offering enticing deals at the same time.
- Doubling down on personalization. Personalization will be a key retail trend in 2018 and beyond. We’re not just talking about putting someone’s name in an email subject line or letting customers put their initials on products. We’re referring to personalization that enables shoppers to build products and customize them to the very last detail. Check out what Dresden is doing for a good example of retail personalization in action.
- Selling products that aren’t available everywhere. Differentiate yourself by stocking unique and high-quality items. People will continue to visit (and pay) retailers that offer exciting assortments. Consider Trader Joe’s. The retailer’s prices are a bit higher, but people continue to flock to TJ stores. Why? Aside from the amazing customer service, TJ is constantly mixing up its assortment, offering branded products that can only be found in its stores.
9. Modernize your merchandising
Still using the same, tired old store format or window displays? Take time in early 2018 to switch things up. Retail will be a lot more competitive this coming year. You want to make sure that your store’s look and feel are unique and attractive enough to entice people to walk in and linger.
If you haven’t done so yet, perform the V & Vista Exercise exercise by Kizer and Bender to figure out your store’s most profitable areas. Taking this step will help you determine where to put your best products and what you can do to keep things fresh.
10. Find other areas of improvement by looking at your data
Your own store data can be a goldmine for insights on how to do better. Spend some time digging through your numbers for 2017 to find areas that you can improve on in 2018. Here are some suggestions:
Examine your sales and inventory data to figure out what to stock
Which products should you carry more of? Which suppliers should you buy from? The best way to answer that is to look at your data. Determine your top sellers to figure out what your customers want, and then take steps to give people more of that going forward.
One example of data in action comes from Dish the Fish in Singapore.
Dish The Fish uses a cloud-based POS and retail management platform to run their business. The system allows them to track their sales and inventory, and Dish The Fish uses that data to make smarter decisions.
Because of this modern setup, Jeffrey Tan, the stall’s owner, always knows what his top-sellers are and how fast each fish sells out in a day. That information has proven to be valuable in his decision-making.
“I used to order a lot of the ikan kuning [type of fish] when I’m at the port, because I thought it sold really quickly,” he told United Overseas Bank (UOB). But according to UOB, “when he pulled out the hourly data to track the sales frequency among different fish, he was surprised to find that the leather jacket, which was slightly pricier than the ikan kuning, was the faster-selling one.”
Look at your hourly sales to determine the most profitable time slots for your store
Knowing your hourly sales will help you set employee shifts. For instance, if you know that you always get a rush of customers in the afternoon, then you can schedule additional associates for that time period.
Looking at hourly sales can also help you determine the best operating hours.
For example, Jon Wakefield, owner of Pets of Sandgate, realized that they would be more profitable if they adjusted their store hours.
“Previously we were open from 8:30 until 5:30 each day on weekdays; then from 8:30 until 5:00 on Saturday, and 10 til 5 on Sunday. But I went into Vend, and I worked out how much we were actually making in those hours,” he shared.
“It turned out that between 8:30 and 9 o’clock, we weren’t making enough money to cover wages. So we changed our operating hours, and now we’re open from 9:00 to 5:30 on weekdays, and then from 8:30 until 4 on Saturdays. Then on Sundays, we’re only open until 3pm.”
Try to do something similar. Check your sales per hour to determine if your revenue during certain times can compensate for expenses. If not, you might want to consider adjusting your store hours accordingly.
Finding out how people discover your store so you can re-focus your marketing efforts
How are people finding your business? If you don’t know the answer to that, it’s high time to figure things out. Talk to your customers and look at the marketing channels that you’re using, then figure which ones are driving traffic and sales.
Are people discovering you through Google? Perhaps your Facebook and Instagram efforts are paying off. Or maybe it’s just good old word of mouth.
Whatever the case, find that source and double down in 2018.
How are you planning to make 2018 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.Learn More
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+.