Holiday selling season has already begun

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I know what you’re thinking — we’re not even to Halloween yet; then comes Thanksgiving. But in case you haven’t noticed we’re already being barraged with TV ads for Christmas stuff, and stores such as Kmart, Target and many more already have their Christmas items on shelves next to their plastic pumpkins and Pilgrim hats.

Now I don’t want to get into an ideological snit-fest that this early unveiling will make Christmas seem old hat by the time it gets here. But it doesn’t take a degree from Wharton (mine’s proudly from Indiana University), either, to recognize that if you can’t beat ‘em, you’re best to join ‘em.

So we might as well acknowledge that the Christmas retail season no longer kicks off around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Indeed, a RetailMeNot study found that nearly 80 percent of retailers indicated plans to begin holiday sales earlier this year. Further, 45 percent of Americans plan to start shopping before Nov. 1. So look for Black Friday deals to start well before Thanksgiving and go beyond Cyber Monday, it said. Obviously, the big retailers believe customers will respond to related product offerings and buy now.

Accordingly, for marine dealers who want to cash in on Christmas spending, now is the time to begin executing those holiday sales offers and promotions — before everyone else cleans out consumers’ wallets.

And why not? Overall, Christmas sales are expected to show gains this year, given the improved economy, low unemployment and consumer confidence well above last year.

For example, Deloitte Touche sees holiday sales rising 4 to 4.5 percent between November and January, to a possible high of $1.05 trillion, given that disposable personal income has grown as much as 4.2 percent — more than double the 2 percent rate a year ago. What boat dealer wouldn’t like a piece of that action?

Part of the rationale for stuffing retail shelves early is to counter predictions that much of the overall holiday sales boost will come from e-commerce. For example, although eMarketer’s holiday forecasts are more subdued (3.1 percent projected growth) than others, it predicts that online holiday sales could grow 16.6 percent, the biggest increase in six years. Any way you look at it, money is going to be spent.

But experts say retailers will have to be creative and use aggressive promotions (meaning discounts) to cash in. Here are some thoughts worth consideration:

Declare it’s “sales time” now. Why do virtually all retailers of any shape and size have sales during the holiday shopping season? Because they work! Get aggressive and creative. Offer one big bargain item a day or a week or a weekend only. A big discount on some popular item(s) can attract Christmas shoppers, particularly from within your existing customer base.

But experts say make certain your discounts are worthwhile. Like it or not, today we’ve become conditioned to being drawn by discounts. So a little 5 or 10 percent off, unless it’s on some major item, won’t draw. And remember, depending on the item, shoppers can easily compare prices these days.

Hold a holiday in-store event. I recall a dealer in northern Ohio who traditionally had a three-day Thanksgiving in-store holiday party with great success. It drew heavily from his existing customer base, but sold some boats and accessories to newbies, too. The showroom was brightly decorated, the refreshments were enticing, and the dealer even featured a few speakers on fishing and cruising subjects.

Good advertising and promotion will make it work. They can’t come if they don’t know about it. Determine the best channels to use to attract your best customers and prospects. Is it conventional newspaper ads, radio, social media, email? Whatever you choose, promote heavily.

Using social media is good because it has the possibility of going viral, although odds are it won’t. But the most powerful way to attract your customers is still email. In fact, according to McKinsey & Company, marketing with email is three times more effective than social media, and the average customer order is 17 percent higher.

Presuming you have a good email list to which you regularly send a newsletter or something similar, it’s obviously a good vehicle to promote Christmas sales. However, sending out separate emails each time a new or different item is offered at a Christmas discount price can prove to be successful. And experts insist the more personal the email to existing customers, the better the rate of return will likely be.

Moreover, it’s appropriate to reward these loyal customers with special offers, such as extra discounts just for them and not available to the general public. It indicates to customers that they are definitely “special,” and experts say that’s a hard message to resist.

So as we head toward that “most wonderful time of the year,” now is the time to make a move a move and have sales, not sugarplums, dance in your head.


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