There’s now fewer than 100 days until Christmas 2018 — 95 to be exact — and retailers across the country are already busy preparing for the industry’s busiest period of the year.
Australians spent more than $26 billion with retailers last December, and business owners and industry advocates alike say they’re optimistic about about a bigger number this year.
So, if you’re in the retail game, what should your business be doing to prepare for the silly season?
Nicole Keleher knows a thing or two about holiday season retailing as the chief executive and head designer at My Christmas, a specialist retailer for Christmas decorations.
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It’s still September, but Keleher tells SmartCompany planning is already in full swing for December.
“We’re flat out, preparations are full on,” she says.
Stock, Stock, Stock
Top on Keleher’s list? Stock management and logistics.
Getting in early with suppliers is crucial to a successful festive season, Keleher says, because she’s only really going to get one chance to get her range right.
“We don’t get a big chance to repurchase stock so we have to buy and we almost get one hit at it,” she says.
“We have to be very mindful of what does and doesn’t work.”
As a small business owner, Keleher doesn’t have a team of analytical experts pouring over product data, instead she relies on reports written from the previous year to answer key questions: what sold well, what were stock levels and at what time?
Retail sales typically peak weeks before Christmas Day — for Keleher its December 1 when customers are putting up their trees — while December 15-17 is when shopping often peaks for the broader industry.
As Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman explains, retailers that haven’t already started their holiday season ordering need to get their skates on.
“Most businesses should now have put on order all of their Christmas stock,” he tells SmartCompany.
“If you haven’t done it, talk to your supplier pretty quickly.”
Zimmerman, himself the owner of a retail store, advises businesses to assess their current stock levels, work out what is likely to sell best and ensure there’s plenty of back-up stock available.
Trends move fast and if your business hits on a hot product, running out could be a problem.
Hire, train, sell
More shoppers means more sales, and for many retailers, that also means more staff.
Zimmerman says he’s already seeing larger retailers advertising for casual Christmas roles on job platforms, and he advises smaller retailers to get moving on finding store assistants.
Keleher says staffing is her biggest challenge over Christmas as a business owner, with new faces coming into the business at the busiest time of the year.
Once you’ve identified the number of employees you’ll need and people are hired, the next step is ensuring they’re properly trained, says Keleher.
“We need to be working hard on training new staff, and also keeping existing staff connected,” she explains.
Ensuring staff without Christmas retail experience are properly briefed and supported is key, as last minute drop outs can punish business owners at the most crucial time of the year.
It’s also important to stay across the entitlements of employees, particularly over the latter part of the Christmas period, which is littered with public holidays.
Trading hours are extended for retailers in shopping centres in most states, which can also change what business owners are required to pay employees.
Pay obligations under the General Retail Award differ depending on the responsibilities of staff, but the Fair Work Ombudsman has a handy calculator to help employers get across their obligations.
Employees also don’t have to work on public holidays, although employers can ask them to work on those days, if the request is reasonable. Employees may refuse to work if they have reasonable grounds.
There are a range of other things that retailers should take care of before December gets into full swing, Zimmerman says.
These include ensuring displays are correct, websites are updated with the correct contact information and e-commerce operations are as bug-free as possible.
There are also some regulatory changes to be aware of since last year.
Retailers selling to customers in New South Wales should be aware that gift card expiry dates must now be a minimum of three years.
Sunday penalty rates also changed again in July this year, so relying on solely on last year’s pay slips is ill advised.
Casual employees under the General Retail Award are entitled to a 185% Sunday penalty rate, while full- and part-time workers are entitled to 180%.
Checklist complete, the rest comes down to good ol’ fashion retailing.
Keheler is optimistic about the coming months and hopes to wow customers with a brand new store, complete with a dedicated demonstration area to help customers with festive design ideas.
Zimmerman says things are looking pretty good for Christmas, despite a difficult year for the sector more broadly, but he warns the stakes are high.
“You can make 60% of your profit in the six weeks leading up to Christmas — if you get it wrong you might lose a lot,” he says.