5 tips for surviving the biggest sale of the year

For retailers, seasonal sales are par for the course. Almost every store (with the exception of clearance outlets) will need to aggressively markdown stock at some stage, in order to make room for new season stock.

However, for many retailers, there’s one sale that lays all others to dust. It’s bigger, bolder, and more terrifying than all others. If you’re in the US, it’s Black Friday. For those of you in the UK or Australia, it’s Boxing Day.

They might fall on different days, but there are more similarities than there are differences between the two. Both involve extended opening hours, crazy markdowns, hordes of people trying to score a bargain and stressed out, frantic employees trying to keep up.

I have worked my share of Boxing Day sales in Australia, each more traumatic than the last, and I’ve learned a lot from each one. If you’re set to run your very first Boxing Day or Black Friday sale this year, here’s what you need to know:

You can never have too many employees

This sounds like hyperbole, but I promise it isn’t. No matter how many employees you put on the schedule for the day of your big sale, it won’t feel like enough.

That means you need to be smart about how you plan out the schedule with the employees you do have available for that day. It’s likely that your trading hours will be longer than normal, and you’ll need to take that into account when planning, which may mean splitting the day into two (i.e. an early shift and a late shift), or asking your employees to work longer hours than usual.

You’ll also need to pre-schedule any breaks your employees are entitled to, so you can ensure you have enough cover on the store floor at all times – it’s not going to work so well if all of your employees take off at the same time for lunch!

Put aside your merchandising pride

Visual merchandising was always my favourite part of working in retail. Creating window displays, color-blocking the store, dressing mannequins and carefully and precisely folding piles of sweaters is infinitely more fun than ringing up sales through a till.

Looking around a store and seeing how beautiful and appealing you’ve made it look is one of the most rewarding parts of working in retail. But on Boxing Day or Black Friday, you need to throw that out the window.

Customers are oblivious to how much effort goes into merchandising a store at the best of times, and no more so than on sale days. Your customers will be so focused on finding an amazing bargain that your carefully thought-out displays and racks will be torn apart within 10 minutes of you opening the doors.

Prepare for this by ‘sale-proofing’ your merchandising before your sale:

  • Hang as much product as possible, instead of folding
  • Organise sale stock by price point, rather than color way, style or size
  • Remove all stock from windows and mannequins, and place back on the store floor – you don’t want a customer to be stripping a mannequin for the last size 10
  • Bring as much stock out of the storeroom as possible
  • Make sure everything has a price on it
  • Allocate one or more employees to emptying fitting rooms, removing excess stock from registers and tidying throughout the day

A fast sale is a good sale

When you’re putting through a sale on any other day of the year, you can take your time. You might chat with your customer, package their purchase up prettily, ask them to join your loyalty program or mailing list.

On sale day, you don’t have that luxury. For every customer you’re serving, there’s probably at least a dozen behind them, waiting impatiently.

Before sale day, you need to look at the things that often slow you down at the register, and make provisions to avoid those things. Have extra carrier bags and register rolls on hand, so you’re not forced to run to the storeroom during a rush. If you normally wrap everything delicately in tissue paper and raffia, consider putting that practice aside for the day. Organise extra change from the bank before sale day, so you’re not stuck making up 3 dollars in change with nothing but five-cent pieces.

Nothing about sale day is normal, and you should be prepared to change the normal way you do things in order to make efficiency your priority.

Enforce breaks

It’s all too easy to skip breaks (and encourage your employees to do the same) when it’s busy.

Do not do this.

On a stressful day like Boxing Day or Black Friday, the chance to step away for fifteen minutes and regroup is essential to keeping you and your team energised and focused.

If your budget allows it, stock your break room with some snacks and drinks for your team, so they can quickly and easily recharge on their break. I worked in a store where they plied us with energy drinks and donuts on Boxing Day, but unless you want the unique experience of watching your team being hit with sugar crashes simultaneously, I’d recommend healthier options.

Above all, stay calm

The unfortunate reality of sale day is that, no matter how well you plan ahead, something will go wrong on sale day.

It might be technical issues, difficult customers, problems with your employees or something else entirely. Regardless of what kind of crisis arises during your sale, the important thing is to stay calm, and act as a point of stability for your team.

Big sales like Boxing Day and Black Friday are, by nature, stressful. However, in my experience, these sales can easily yield 5 times more sales than you’d expect on a normal day of trade – so it’s well worth the pain.

By planning ahead, you can make the day far less stressful – and far more rewarding – for yourself, your team and your bottom line.

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