Get Creative for a Healthy 2008 Holiday Season

Unemployment’s up. Retail spending is down. And Halloween merchandise is already on store shelves. Are you ready for the fast-approaching holiday season?

Last year, we published “The Retailer’s Guide to Holiday Themes,” which had some ideas for slightly better economic times. Some of those ideas, such as using art student interns to create your store window displays, are still viable. This year, however, we don’t have to remind you how the national credit crunch and mortgage meltdown are affecting consumer spending at retail. So unless you’ve set aside a nest egg for advertising and promotions, you’ll have to get creative to lure shoppers into their $4-a-gallon gas guzzlers and drive over to your shop.

Speaking of driving, consider giving gasoline gift cards for different spending thresholds, such as $10 for each $100 a customer buys in your store. If you’re in an area with a good metro transit system, offer tokens, passes or other incentives for those who take public transportation to your place.

Publish a holiday calendar that you can mail or email your customers. Let them know which days you’ll be holding holiday sales or in-store events. If you have a website, post the same information on a special holiday calendar page. Or borrow a page from the Obama campaign and send text-message reminders to customers who’ve opted in to your cell phone list.

Get together with your retail neighbors to hold open-house nights with refreshments, youth chorales and other low-cost entertainment. Many small-town downtowns and shopping areas do this annually, sometimes culminating with a holiday parade and Christmas tree lighting. Work with your chamber of commerce to see what events are planned and how you can join in.

If you’re civic-minded and spend time during the holiday season helping out at places like soup kitchens and homeless shelters, encourage your customers to do the same. Have them verify the hours they donate and offer to match a percentage of your holiday sales based on those hours. Giant corporations like American Express are working with cardholders who want to perform similar good deeds at MembersProject.com. Check it out and see if you can either work with AE or urge your customers to do the same.

Remember, more than ever, the spoils of this holiday shopping season will go to the retailers who offer the most to their shoppers and communities. Show them how much you care and they’ll be certain to reward you with a happy, healthy season where it counts the most: at your POS.

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