Festive season puts pressure on retailers to get it right

By John Albertson

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Once firms have the correct stock and staff levels, they need to promote themselves.

What does the Christmas season mean to retailers' annual sales?

It varies, but for gift and homeware retailers and toy companies, it represents a substantial proportion of annual turnover. Retailers do not want to get their staffing levels wrong at this time of year and turn customers away. They want to be making every effort to maximise customer satisfaction.

How should they organise Christmas staffing?

They need to balance two things. In the run up to Christmas, customers are under pressure, with social functions to fit in as well as Christmas shopping and organising Christmas dinner. Retailers need to be giving them as much support as they can by having plenty of staff on hand to answer questions and help them make purchasing decisions. But store owners also have to balance this against likely sales levels. Most experienced retailers will know year-to-year whether they will be up or down by 2 or 3 per cent on the previous year so shouldn't make the mistake of overhiring. They also need to plan for the period after Christmas.

Boxing Day sales are increasingly popular so retailers are seeing a flow through of customers and sales into the New Year. Permanent staff will also be putting in for holidays at that time of year.

Who should retailers look to to supplement their staff levels?

Some stores will be aware of people who they know and trust to be good on the floor. A lot of students still get jobs in retail in the summer holidays.

Are some retailers choosing not to take on extra people because they are generally better staffed?

Things are still not easy in the retail sector but they are better than a couple of years ago so that is possible. A retailer's need to hire new, temporary staff over Christmas can reflect how good their staff training is of their permanent people. If their people are well trained, they can deal with more than one customer at a time.

What sort of training should Christmas-only staff be given?

Retailers need to take training of new, temporary staff seriously. If they are thinking about turning someone out on to the floor, they do not want to have to be correcting their mistakes. They are far better off putting time into training and then these new recruits can get on and sell.

What else should retailers be doing in the run-up to Christmas?

Once they have their stock levels right and their staff levels right, they need to promote themselves. The important thing is to realise that the power of choice lies with the customer. Some will want to visit the store, others might want to visit the website to check availability, others might want to complete the full purchase online. Retailers must understand what their customers want and expect from them and deliver it.

John Albertson is chief executive of the New Zealand Retailers Association.

- NZ Herald

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