Retail Stores: Preparing for the Holiday Season

It’s October which means the fourth quarter is bearing down on us. For those of us in retail that means it is go time! Retailers are making preparations for holiday merchandising and promotions focusing on ways to maximize on the traffic the holidays will bring.

Preparing for the Holiday Season

The fourth quarter is the most important quarter in most retail businesses. According to the National Retail Federation the fourth quarter comprises anywhere from 25-40% of retailers’ yearly revenue. Because so much of the year is dependent on having a good holiday season, it is imperative to have a good strategy and solid tactics to maximize the opportunities and minimize the inherent threats of the season.

You will want to be firing on all thrusters in all areas to make the most of the season. Here are some things that you will want to focus on to ensure that you have a profitable season.


It is important that you look at your staffing model to ensure that you have enough folks to handle the holiday rush. Now is the time to start hiring for those key positions so that you have enough time to train your people and get them truly ready to handle your customers during the holiday season.

Many retailers are ramping up for the holidays and the trend this year is to hire more people than last year. As a result, there will be many jobs for those folks to choose from. What makes your store better than the other stores in the neighborhood? Answer that question and then tell your candidates! When you are posting for holiday help be sure to tout the benefits of working at your store:

  • Do you offer flexible hours? Tell the folks in the listing!
  • Do you offer a bonus structure? Say so!
  • Do you offer part time benefits? Shout if from the rooftops! It is easy to assume the job candidates know what your benefits are, but the fact of the matter is they likely have an idea but don't have all of the details.

If you want the more talented candidates to come work at your store you should tell them why they should do so. What is in it for them? Create a one page benefits sheet that can be handed out during the employment interview that tells candidates the actual benefits of working at your store.

Skills Training

Are your people’s skills at the level they should be? Do you know? Take some time before the holiday rush to really understand where your people are at in their development. Now is the time to create a training strategy to ensure that your folks are truly ready for the season.

I recommend creating a skill matrix where you list each of the people in your staff on one side and each of the skills and tasks of their job functions along the top. You can then rank your folks based on their ability to perform that task or skill. A grid like this will allow you to visualize where your folks are at in their training process and then easily fill the gaps.

Here is a great YouTube video that shows a skill matrix and how to implement it. I pulled this from BMGI expert Tom Jones who created this video to explain this component of LEAN operations.

Process Training

Along with bringing your people along individually using the skill matrix the fourth quarter is a good time for refresher training on customer service, the returns process, customer complaint resolution and loss prevention.

Customer Service Training

This training is a must moving into the fourth quarter. Have a training meeting and make it fun. Put some energy back into the sales force by launching a fourth quarter contest at the meeting. Set some realistic stretch goals for the folks to achieve and then add a carrot!

Be sure that everyone understands the return process. Customers will not forgive you if their return is handled poorly. Customers expect returns to be handled in a simple, straight forward manner and will shop at your competition if they view your return policy as unfair. Be sure your folks understand the policy and are good at handling these transactions effectively.

Complaint resolution training

Do your folks know how to handle customer complaints effectively? Do you have multiple people in the store that are trained to handle these issues as they arise?

Nothing is more frustrating for a customer than to have to explain the issue multiple times because no one in the store has the authority or training to resolve the complaint. Train everyone that faces customers how to properly handle the complaint process. If they are not trained to resolve the complaint be sure that they don’t ask the customer to explain the issue again only to pass it along to a supervisor.

Loss prevention training

Finally, with respect to training topics for the fourth quarter you should refresh your managers and store teams on Loss Prevention. The fourth quarter is also the season for thieves and scammers. Preparing your management teams and store staffs on how to identify potential loss prevention issues is very important.

Have you trained your staff what to do in case of a shoplifter? Have you practiced that scenario? It is probably not something that comes up a great deal but should be discussed and your folks should be ready for it come black Friday weekend.

Preparing for the Holiday Season

Do your folks know what a counterfeit bill looks like? The counterfeiters have gotten much better at what they do and as a result the counterfeit bills are much more difficult to discern. You can get some fantastic training materials at the Secret Service’s Know Your Money website.

The best way to prevent loss is through excellent customer service. If you try to give good customer service to a potential thief he/she will realize that you are paying attention and they will move on down the line to the next store. Another great tactic for preventing and identifying loss is good housekeeping. It is much easier to see when something is amiss when everything is in its place.

This is truly just a short list of items that you should take a look at when preparing for the holiday season in a retail store. Just remember that you have a very short window of super charged business so be sure you have a plan to maximize on every customer every time so that you can have a jolly and profitable holiday season!

Tina is an experienced retail strategy consultant who has held a variety of retail management positions in her 20 years in the industry.