And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?

It’s all very well for pundits, analysts and researchers to ring the yuletide bells of doom in anticipation of yet another flat Christmas, but they’re not the ones on the frontline facing pressure from the balance sheet, says Paul Laville, CEO, T21 Group

Paul Laville, managing director, T21To say that 2019 has been difficult for most UK businesses would be an understatement. According to a report published earlier this year by PwC, ‘the UK retail market overall isn’t going to grow very much in the foreseeable future’ – 0.8 per cent if another report (produced by the Centre for Retail Research) is to be believed, and that’s if Brexit goes ahead!

Footfall may be down and consumers may be more cautious, but retailers still need to sell and the Christmas season is still a key opportunity to make some money. They may be thin on the ground compared to previous years but the shoppers are out there, and you’ve still got to put the work in to convince them to buy from you.

But what does that work look like? What do retailers need to do to entice these few Christmas consumers over the threshold to part with their festive bonuses?

Well, you know your business best, but when growth is flat it generally means that the competition needs to step up. The buying power belongs to the shoppers and they’ll be very choosy, so the key to successful Christmas trading is to do what you do better than any of your competitors and improve it by a factor of 10-plus.

It’s the theory of ‘marginal gains’ at play, where you look closely at the strengths of your business and work out what you can offer that’s slicker, more attractive and more beneficial to your customers – then you improve it, market it, cover it in glitter and make it visible to everyone who can see it. And when customers are in store, deliver this glamour without a single wasted opportunity, making sure that your staff are fully geared up, trained and motivated to sell.

Provide the best shopping experience on the high street. At Christmas time I think it’s perfectly acceptable to indulge in a little pantomime. Still, if dressing up in costume isn’t your thing, there are other ways to make the store look and feel exciting and memorable. Live demonstrations, a bit of theatre, free cup of mulled wine at lunch time? That’d do it for me!

Get yourself a good deal

You obviously want to protect your margins so what can you negotiate with your suppliers? I’m sure you’ll be asking your reps for something they can do for you, but think about what you can give them in return. There’s no benefit in one-way traffic and they’ll be spending with retailers who provide a return on their investments. It’s at times like these when good relationships with your suppliers can make all the difference.

Finally, don’t neglect your online presence. Your website has to nail Christmas. It can’t afford to be slow, or populated within incorrect prices and product you don’t have. Cut back on text, use snappy headlines, clear fonts and lots of quality images. Make sure your branding is consistent and professional, and spend some time with your IT people testing page-loading times and responsiveness, particularly on mobile. Get your social media working on overdrive and use the analytics to refine your messages.

Christmas may not be what it used to be in retail, and consumers may be spending less, but they are still spending something. So you should do what it takes to convince those shoppers to spend their Christmas with you. Let’s make it a good one!