Though the calendar says August, it’s not too early for retailers to plan and strategize for the holiday shopping season, which means a sharper focus on merchandising as well as the in-store experience, said Shelley E. Kohan, vice president of retail consulting at RetailNext Tuesday.

During the presentation, “Preparing for Holiday 2015: A Brick-and-Mortar Guide for Maximizing Sales,” Kohan said there are some notable differences this year along with some trends that retailers can leverage.

Firstly, Black Friday will remain the top traffic day during the season while Dec. 19 (the Saturday before Christmas) will garner the highest sales volume of the season. Moreover, the weekend before Christmas can be positioned as a “mega-shopping weekend,” Kohan said, adding that because Christmas falls on a Friday this year, consumers will likely take that previous Thursday off, as well.

“They will take a long weekend, so retailers need to have a strategic plan in place for Dec. 23 and 24,” she said. “Retailers need to offer value or a different shade of product those days, but not make it too promotional. Retailers should really have some plans built around those days from a product standpoint.”

That said, Kohan said Dec. 26 becomes the “supershopping day,” which was seen last year. The after-Christmas period experienced an 8 percent sales gain, and Kohan sees this happening again this season. Overall, though, there are challenges, as last year saw lower overall traffic for the November and December period and this year could be the same. As a result, Kohan suggests a few approaches for companies to engage in this season.

She said “every retailer in America has to reinvent Thanksgiving” this year, given that there was a 11 percent decline in overall sales last Thanksgiving. “Shoppers see it as a five-day event, so retailers need a strategy around the other days,” Kohan said, adding that there need to be more transparent pricing, and “a frictionless experience” between in-store and online.

And, most important of all, Kohan said retailers must address the “knowledge deficiency gap” between sales associates and consumers. Kohan said savvy consumers conduct a lot of research online prior to going into the store, and often they have a disappointing experience in the store because they know more about the product than the sales associate. Subsequently, better training of staff is necessary.

Kohan noted that the convergence of online and in-store is part of a consumer’s “shopping journey” that starts online via a Web site or with a mobile device, then occurs inside a store and might conclude digitally.

So it’s important to have a brand experience that is consistent through the shopping journey, “and it should continue in the digital world when the shopper leaves the store,” Kohan said.

 

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