It’s time for … Christmas?

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I know dealers in the North are up to their gunwales pulling boats for the winter, and Christmas isn’t top of mind. Still, if grabbing some of the billions in Christmas dollars would make your holidays merry and bright, you better get going.

Robust consumer spending this year suggests that the holiday season will see strong retail sales growth. Specifically, the positive macroeconomic condition of high employment and a near-record consumer confidence index is setting the stage for consumers to continue liberal spending into the holidays, according to eMarketer’s daily news report.

U.S. retail sales are projected to climb 4.1 percent, and retail e-commerce spending is expected to rise 16.2 percent to about $123.4 billion, marking some of the best growth rates in recent years.

Another positive note is the 2018 holiday season will include the longest possible shopping calendar, with 32 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s more time for shoppers to complete their holiday buying at brick-and-mortar stores, as well as online. Bottom line: more spending.

For general retailers jumping into the Christmas rush, key promotional days will be as important as ever. Cyber Monday is expected to again be the heaviest online shopping day of the year. Thanksgiving and Black Friday will continue big, too.

For a marine dealers, however, planning Christmas promotions is not a Cyber Monday sprint. That’s not to say hitting the Black Friday weekend with special offers won’t work. Studies indicate that on that weekend, consumers will spend an average of $803 on gifts, up from $743 last year. It’s also notable that surveys indicate 87 percent of shoppers are looking for deals that weekend and 71 percent say price is the biggest factor in what they purchase.

But marine dealers should take a cue from the retailers that already have Christmas items on shelves. Dealers should create a series of offers for customers that begins now and goes well into December. In fact, 45 percent of Americans say they plan to start shopping by today Nov. 1. Further, eMarketer notes that 39 percent of shoppers plan to have their purchases completed by Dec. 18. (The rest, like me, will be shopping on Dec. 23!) So Black Friday deals will start well before Thanksgiving and go way beyond Cyber Monday.

Consider making it “Christmas Sales Time” now. After all, why do virtually all retailers push special sales during the holiday season? Because they work. Be creative. Offer one big bargain item a day or a week or for a weekend. A significant discount on popular items can lure shoppers, particularly from within your existing customer base.

Hold a holiday in-store event. I’ve shared this story before, but it’s worth repeating. I recall a dealer in northern Ohio who traditionally had a three-day Thanksgiving weekend 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 featured a few speakers who presented fishing and cruising topics.

Using social media is good, but email remains a more effective way to attract your customers. According to McKinsey & Company, marketing with email is three times more effective than social media, and the average customer order is 17 percent higher.

In addition, it’s appropriate to reward loyal customers with special offers, such as discounts not available to the public. It indicates that customers are special, and experts say that message is difficult to resist — the more personal the email, the better the rate of return.

As a testament to the idea, my wife has purchased dozens of items from local dealers to put under the tree over the years. I’d be disappointed if they weren’t there. Everything from the latest electronics to branded clothing and deck chairs, even a paid discounted spring commissioning order (for which the dealer had been paid.)

Sugar plums dancing in your head is overrated — go for the bucks building your jolly bank account this Christmas.

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