Shoppers Wrapping It Up Earlier, So Stores Should Be Ready

Holiday Trends and Tips for Today’s Sellers
By Maria Scandale | Nov 20, 2019

Southern Ocean County — There are only 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and somehow, those are the shortest days of the year. They’re also-jam-packed with shoppers – major retailers predict that 28.5 percent of seasonal sales will take place during Black Friday weekend.

What these and other statistics mean for local businesses was pointed out by Michael Forcella, manager of business engagement at Ocean County College, at the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce meeting Nov. 13 at the Holiday Inn Manahawkin.

One call to action: Businesses may want to get ready for the season a little sooner than they used to.

These top retailers polled by Levin Management Co. also said another 27.7 percent of seasonal sales are already done by Thanksgiving. Compare that number to 15 percent in 2012.

“Maybe you have to step up your game a little before Thanksgiving” was one bit of friendly advice from Forcella. “They’ve been advertising Christmas since Halloween now. Maybe that should have been our first tip.”

The 2019 holiday season is expected to ring in good news, Forcella relayed. Eighty-eight percent of the 105 properties studied in the survey expect holiday sales to exceed last year’s figure. Plus, the International Council of Shopping Centers stated that holiday spending is expected to increase 4.9 percent over last year. Another plus: 90 percent of adults expect to shop in-store for gifts, according to that same shopping center council.

How can Southern Ocean County businesses take advantage of today’s trends? That’s a topic that Forcella was asked to bring to the meeting when invited by chamber CEO Lori Pepenella, he said. Such subjects are usually taught in four- to 12-hour segments, he said, noting that he was going to give it a good shot in the 10 minutes that he had on the busy meeting agenda.

Trend number one: “Saving is the new spending. American shopping isn’t about spending, it’s about saving – money and time,” he said.

After hearing a list of holiday events planned at Southern Ocean County stores and attractions, he noted the region has a lot going for it.

“Why would I want to come to your small business? it sounded like fun; it sounded like ‘local,’ it sounded interesting, everything you described here today. It made me want to come down here from Toms River.

“More importantly, I can get in, get out, find what i want to buy and be done. Most people’s goal is ‘I want to be done by Thanksgiving’ or ‘I want to be done by the middle of December. I don’t want to rush out Christmas Eve like the guys used to do.’ So it’s saving time and money.”

Smaller shopping trips are also a trend, he said, “feeling comfortable, going home,and coming back.” In that manner, making shopping an event like the businesses are planning when Santa Claus and specials will magically appear can work. “You have to make them so happy to come that they want to come do it again.”

Sales Techniques

To Reach ‘Gen Z’

Other trends and tips followed marketing strategies. “Don’t Tell and Sell, Show and Ask” was trend number two. It means to verbally and visually engage people. Ask, “Did you know?” as a way of talking with customers instead of at them. Use a prop, showing something interesting to look at. Demonstrate a product that solves a problem.

“Create curiosity and get people’s favorable attention ... it takes you to the next level,” Forcella advised.

“If we want to succeed, we must intrigue. That’s one of the hot marketing concepts these days,” he added. An example of the latter is the mystery that the Harry Potter movie releases created when the ad campaign tempted that the movie would be released at midnight.

The business engagement manager and instructor also reminded chamber members to be aware of the age groups that they are targeting. For example, the “Gen Z” population, born from 2000 to the present, “is completely shifting the way we must sell.”

“Millennials were the first generation that grew up with computers. Z Gen is the first generation that grew up with smartphones ... they are sharper with this technology; they are approaching the world differently than previous generations. They have a passion for social justice, they believe in diversity ... they have a demand for authenticity; they want credibility; they have short attention spans,” he pointed out, and often, “they care about quality over price.”

Therefore, Trend 3: Develop a business culture.

“Earn credibility in authenticity, diversity, inclusion. If you are credible and they feel that you as an owner are making a difference, they will make a difference being a customer.”

One more tip: “Be engaged with the customer. Have one of the employees walking around ready to help, making eye contact,” said Forcella, whose background was in customer service in the casino industry.

“The worst thing is when you have an employee or even yourself, standing there checking the phone,” Forcella said. “When I walk in and I see somebody checking the phone, I figure, ‘This place isn’t busy, or they don’t have enough time to pay any attention to me, and I’m in there to get in and get out.’ There’s a time and a place for these phones.

“It’s the experience,” he wrapped up the informative talk, hearkening to the success of the Disney experience.

“If you can get your customers to talk about what you did this holiday season, it’s going to translate the entire year.”

— Maria Scandale

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