Congratulations, retail store manager, on successfully making it through another frantic holiday season. Sure, the store looks like a tornado just raced through, many of your employees have collapsed from exhaustion in the aisles and the store PA is stuck playing a constant loop of “Jingle Bell Rock,” but the point is that you survived and it’s all over.
Or is it? The sad fact of 21st-century life in the retail industry is that the holiday season doesn’t wrap up in a nice package the day after Christmas. As Joel Evans, distinguished professor of business at Hofstra University and coauthor of Retail Management: A Strategic Approach, points out, the preholiday shopping frenzy segues almost immediately into an equally busy post-holiday shopping maelstrom.
“Of course there are the returns, which we’ve always had, as well as the sales that are typically run after the holidays to clear out remaining merchandise, but now we also have the influx of gift cards,” Evans says. “A tremendous number of people who received gift cards figure they’ll cash in come January while they’re still in the holiday spirit.”
Add to that the extra-picky post-holiday bargain hunters, the disgruntled consumers making returns and the ranks of depleted salespeople, and you get a situation that “doesn’t make for great times,” as Evans puts it.
So what can proactive managers do to prepare their employees so that the post-holiday challenges don’t come as a shock and potentially cripple team morale? Here are some tips.
Give the Gift of Appreciation
One way to smooth the transition is to offer rewards as a way of thanking your staffers for all their hard work during the holiday insanity, says retail consultant Anne Obarski of Merchandise Concepts.
“During the end of the holiday season and immediately afterwards, smart managers will look to reward their employees in unusual or unexpected ways,” she says. “Some ideas include off-site training or motivational workshops, a self-improvement day or other fun activities that might even include team members’ families.”
Evans agrees, adding that a post-holiday party is a great opportunity to recognize the team’s efforts, while also giving them a refresher on how to handle all those gift cards, returns and sale-hungry shoppers.
“This is a good time to bring in cookies, buy a pizza or some doughnuts and then deliver a rah-rah speech,” he says. “Give public recognition to the employees who worked through the holidays. Then say, ‘We understand how tough this part of the year is for everyone, how hard it is when a customer making a return is screaming at you, and we appreciate your patience. Just as a reminder, here are some of the basic rules we’d like you to follow: stay calm, remember that it’s not personal, the customers are often harried themselves and so on.”
Turn Those Returns Around
Julie Boston, senior manager of customer relations and store technology for Pier 1 Imports, adds that while a store’s January sales are unlikely to match December’s, there are still opportunities to apply targeted customer service to boost receipts.
“A good coaching point for January is that teams shouldn’t just stand there at the register vacantly ringing up returns when they could be turning those returns into sales,” she says. To do that, Boston says it’s often a matter of engaging customers in a conversation, such as asking them what they didn’t like about the item they’re returning and finding out if there’s something else you can show them, she says.
“It can be frustrating for store teams to see customer after customer making returns, because your salespeople care about the store’s sales as well,” she says. “So if you can motivate them to turn just some of those returns around into sales, it can do wonders for your post-holiday morale too.”
And as long as you’re trying to boost morale, you could also remind your employees that they don’t have to listen to “Jingle Bell Rock” for another 11 months.