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The Holiday Sell By Date

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | November 12, 2019

A series of upcoming retail time periods require different targeting

The 4th Quarter is typically a critical time for most retail, and some service based businesses.  The whole concept of “Black Friday” was once a reference to many retailers operating “in the red” for a majority of the year before strong holiday sales pushed their ledgers into “the black”.  As the celebrations towards the end of November have multiplied, some businesses struggle to target the individual consumers that are attached to each specific activity.  Let’s cover some of the expanded holiday market opportunities that present themselves towards the end of November, and what you need to do to prepare:

1. Thanksgiving Eve- Most people forget that we have a lot of people that come back to town right before Thanksgiving.  College students, extended family, and commuting workers are here and looking for things to do (and shopping lists to fill).  Entertainment venues, grocery stores, those that sell gourmet items, liquor stores, kitchen gadget emporiums, and anywhere that can act as a gathering place for friends/family have the potential to be busier this Thanksgiving Eve.  The day before Thanksgiving has traditionally been one of the biggest days of the year for “take-out” food.  Thanksgiving Eve success requires that businesses create top of mind awareness, and that they contextualize the potential consumer patronage.  If someone is going to think about your category of business (groceries, for example), you want to generate enough repetition in your marketing that they think about your business first.  For contextualized marketing, you need to clearly communicate that your business is the place to do a certain thing (looking for the spot where all your friends are meeting up when they come back to town for the holidays?  Come to XYZ spot!)  Photos, videos, and links to value added information is important to drive traffic prior to Thanksgiving.  Convenience and expedited service is critical to the Thanksgiving Eve “take out” customer.

2. Thanksgiving-  Thanksgiving is the major holiday where a lot of family planning is conducted.  Investments, wills, medical decisions, accounting directives, housing and more are often discussed once families get together.  Making sure people have solid access to information that adds value to family discussions and highlights your business is important.  Thanksgiving is also the day that many families create their “battle plan” for shopping (or avoiding shopping).  This is a time where small businesses can band together to talk about ALL the things people can do in an area.  Referring to other businesses in close proximity is critical, because once people leave town, they are gone.

3. Black Friday-  Black Friday is a day of bombastic activity for many retailers and restaurants, but mom and pops can pick up a thing or two from watching how businesses interact with customers the day after Thanksgiving.  Most retailers don’t focus on the whole store, instead highlighting a select item (or a handful of items) priced to draw consumers in.  Once in the store, businesses try to add more items to the sale to make up for a lead pricing strategy.  Secondly, stores often have time sensitive activities throughout the day to generate repeat and circulating traffic.  For those businesses that have a sitting area, battling shopping fatigue can provide additional consumer contact and sales opportunities.  Many Black Friday participants are families that are looking for local shopping venues, or people from surrounding communities who want to travel to a place with their well defined shopping list in hand.  Black Friday shoppers are on a mission, and your business needs to clearly communicate how you can help consumers complete that mission.

4. Small Business Saturday-  Many consumers are starting to understand the impact of their spending, and many gift recipients appreciate items that are unique (or from an independent business).  A lot of local businesses have their Small Business Saturday Swag from American Express available for select customers, and Emporia Main Street has our first ever “Elf Hunt” to promote local shopping the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  So far, we have thirteen local businesses that have signed up for in-store drawings, with passports that encourage customers to collect the names of elves from each business.  A completed passport enters participants into a grand prize drawing for gift certificates (and more local shopping).  Small Business Saturday shoppers are looking for authentic experiences that allow them to interact with small businesses (and their owners).  Instead of the “big box turn style” type feel of Black Friday, you should seek connections and information so you can continue a shopping relationship.  Marketing Small Business Saturday shouldn’t feel like a guilt trip for consumers, it should feel like a holistic experience with varied shopping and dining opportunities for everyone on your shopping list.  It’s a community get together that allows you to check off your shopping list in a fun and engaging way.

5. Cyber Monday- The Monday following Thanksgiving is one of the biggest on-line shopping days of the year. Most retailers should have an on-line shopping option.  Collecting e-mails and social media followers throughout the year allows you to communicate sales opportunities to those that prefer an on-line shopping experience.  A bustling holiday storefront can be terrifying to an introvert, so providing alternatives can enhance sales.  Generating wish lists that allow you to link specific items to individual consumers, and then send that list to potential buyers, is an effective Cyber Monday strategy.  For customers in rural areas, or former top customers that have moved away, on-line sales platforms can maintain store connections and improve loyalty.  Youth are particularly adept at onlineshopping (a large percentage enjoy on-line shopping more than a physical store experience), and small businesses need to make up some ground with youth markets before they are lost.  Your Cyber Monday shoppers are found on-line, through targeted ads, social media, and emails.  HOWEVER, if you simply start reaching out on Cyber Monday, you are probably behind the customer acquisition curve.  Start with your data collection and wish lists NOW, so you can take advantage of the data later.

6. Traffic/exposure events-  You can’t simply expect people to wander in your door this holiday season.  Businesses are actively competing for consumer dollars, and you must have an effective competitive strategy to generate a successful holiday season.  Most of your strategy will focus inward (things that are unique to your internal store market, like a holiday open house), but savvy businesses will take advantage of cooperative traffic drivers in their immediate area.  Quarter Mania, First Friday, Moonlight Madness, Seasonal Celebration, Horse Drawn Carriage Rides, and other activities can draw specific consumer types to areas adjacent to your business.  Understanding when local events are occurring , where they are specifically happening, and who the events are targeting, should allow your business to market your offerings to a specific market.  Not all events have the same impact for all businesses, but activities that encourage consumer movement throughout an area can generate foot traffic that you can convert into sales, with the right plan.

Businesses need to make every opportunity count this holiday season.  Take a look through the days/events listed above and have a conversation with your staff.  Contact your advertising representatives.  Look through your daily consumer interaction strategies.  Determine how you can more effectively take advantage of market trends to draw more customers into your business more frequently, and convert lookers into buyers.  When the holidays are over, we see that the “Sell by Date” has often passed for businesses and their products.  An extra push heading into the busiest part of the holidays can freshen up your approach. 

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.