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Written by Roger Simpson, retail expert at Media Stable.

It certainly has been a challenging year for most retailers, with the ABS figures showing sales year on year are relatively flat with most months showing small or even negative growth. A stodgy economy is one of the reasons, we’ve also had an election, and pressure on house prices all leads to consumers keeping their wallets in their pockets. It’s certainly been a case of the winter blues.

Against this backdrop, it’s easy for retailers to focus on the negatives, rental pressure, increased competition and growth of online sales. However, the traditional bricks and mortar stores are still a big attraction with 90% of sales still taking place in store. Even the younger generation enjoy the opportunity to shop in store so there are many positive signs for retailers.

And ahead of us is the best time for sales for traditional retailers – Christmas! For many stores this is the lifeblood that provides enough sales to get them through the tougher winter months. Here’s how retailers can make the weeks leading up to Christmas their best ever.

Recruiting and training great Christmas casuals

This time of the year, retailers are in the process of recruiting extra staff to help out during the busy Christmas period. My advice to retailers when it comes to employing any team member is to hire on attitude and not just experience. Potential team members with a great attitude are the ones that will focus on delivering the best service for your customers. They’ll be open to the training and feedback you provide and strive to do their best each day.

These team members are the face of your business and can provide a great or poor impression to your valuable customers, so choosing the right ones is important. If you invest a bit more time in ensuring you have the right people, your business will massively reap the rewards when they are on the floor.

Training and follow up are key

When times are tough, it’s easy to not invest in your people. I’ve seen this time and time again, yet your team are the ones that deal with customers face to face and can make a massive difference to the dollars spent by each customer. Casual staff need some sort of training rather than just being thrown in and expected to do a great job. One way of training that is much easier now with the improvement in technology is online training. Retailers need to invest in this style of training as it’s readily accessible for all team members.

The senior in-store leaders have a critical role to play with any training, they have to support it and follow up to ensure every team member is putting in place what they have learnt. This is where the next level of investment needs to come in and that’s ensuring your senior store leaders have the skills to follow up effectively.

Why it’s all about providing an outstanding experience

For retailers to capitalise on the opportunities that are about to present themselves (that is, an increase in foot traffic), they have to ensure that every customer who walks in receives a great experience. Too many retailers seem to have let this critical part of the service process lapse, resulting in shoppers who leave either frustrated or underwhelmed. Why then, would these shoppers come back? It’s highly likely they won’t.

As well as outstanding service, retailers have to stand out in the very busy crowd that is modern retailing. What products can you offer that no one else has? What different in-store experiences will your customers receive that make it memorable? It’s not just about fancy flat screen TV’s and loud music, this means nothing if customers are ignored or receive service from a disengaged team member.

Retail is challenging but it’s almost always a fun place to be for both customers and team members. Being greeted by a smiling sales assistant, who focuses on asking you, the customer, key questions to identify your needs and then presents the right solution is a big thing these days. We just need more of it.