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Christmas is on our doorsteps, and delis, farm shops and food halls across the UK will have already spent months putting their festive season plans into action. From the strategizing that begins on Boxing Day of the year before to the dreams of mince pies and turkey in July, the biggest retail event of the year is never far from speciality shop owners’ minds. Now, on the eve of the big day, it’s well worth taking a moment out to consider any last-minute actions that you can take to boost your revenues.
For retailers, 2020 has been a year marked by uncertainty, and one of the biggest conundrums facing the industry was how to prepare for Christmas amid a pandemic.
When the Coronavirus crisis first broke out, independents were quick to adapt to the challenges of the national lockdown. Small businesses worked with their local communities, providing online and delivery services where they could, and Ted Newton, marketing and events coordinator at Farmer Copleys, says this has opened up a new avenue for many small retailers. “There has been an incredible uptake in online orders and click and collects, which has forced us as an industry to pivot to the online side of selling where we may not have previously done so,” says
However, long-term planning has been more of a challenge. Through the summer, consumer confidence and footfall picked back up, but lockdowns and ever-changing government guidelines that stemmed from the second spike in Covid-19 cases in September have since thrown doubt over what the holiday period will look like for retailers. Having a back-up plan centred around online orders and deliveries or pick up points is a vital way for independents to ensure that they’re prepared for any potential lockdowns and to cater to customers who are nervous about coming into the shop.
“During lockdown our online sales went through the roof, and we’re ready for that [again], in that we opened our online Christmas store about three weeks ago and we’ve already received a number of Christmas orders,” explains Mark Kacary, managing director of The Norfolk Deli. “So we’re ready, in that with a flick of a virtual switch we can turn on our delivery service and our range of Norfolk products can be ordered and dispatched nationwide.”
Throughout 2020, many shops have also diverted from their typical opening hours. Clare Bailey, founder of The Retail Champion and the Support for Independent Retail campaign, says that consumers are preferring to research and plan their trips to the shop, which means it’s essential that retailers keep their opening hours up to date wherever they can be found on the internet. “People will be relying on that,” Clare says.
When deciding where to go shopping, research by YouGov found that a whopping 87% of Brits said the most important factor was making sure the store had the item they wanted.
As consumers conduct more of their research online rather than browsing in-store, Clare suggests using social media to reach out to customers and assure them they can contact you with any questions. All this reduces friction for potential customers, making it easier for them to find exactly what they want, and ensuring that you’re more likely to make a sale.
One surprising benefit for independents during the Covid-19 crisis has been a newfound appreciation for local shopping. “We are anticipating a switch towards farm shops this Christmas, as I think people felt let down hugely by some of the big supermarkets during the pandemic and are placing their trust in us,” Ted says.
“People respect the value of local – especially now,” Clare adds. One of the simplest ways to tap into consumers’ desire for products with local provenance is to tell the story of your products through merchandising. For example, Mark says The Norfolk Deli has made a point of celebrating all things Norfolk. “We have built the business based upon this, with the result being that we are the UK’s number one online source for Norfolk products.”
Ted says that as a farm shop, Farmer Copleys is “all about shouting about local produce,” too. “There are so many great businesses and fantastic produce that people are unaware of, and by visiting during this period it has been discovered by more and more people.” And he believes that the local message will also translate to the growing sense of community between towns and their local shops.
“I think the message of ‘being there when you most need it’ will resonate with many people, and with expected limited numbers in households this year, people may feel like they want to splash out for that extra quality produce that we can provide.” It’s certainly true that customers will be keen to treat themselves after a difficult year, but with many experiencing stretched finances, it’s never been more important to get the value of your products across. Clare suggests that speciality shops should champion their products: “A butcher could say fillet steak happens to be a lot more expensive than other steak, but it’s perfectly trimmed so you don’t have any waste,” she says. “And then they can show you how to make it, so that you’re giving yourself a real treat.”
With in-store promotions likely to be planned down to a tee already, online marketing offers a valuable space to pitch your Christmas specials up to the very last minute. “I do think that [independent retailers] need to shout loud and proud on social media. It’s becoming so prevalent,” says Clare.
While there is certainly plenty of competition to contend with online, according to Mark “the beauty of social media promotions is that it’s possible to make your business look and feel as professional and as big as even the biggest businesses”. Yet farm shops and food halls will still be able to offer the personal touch that customers love them for. “The advantage a small business has is the ability to create a personal side to the business which draws in customers. People want to feel part of your business, and this is invaluable,” Mark adds.
In the two months leading up to Christmas, The Norfolk Deli will carry out a number of sponsored Instagram and Facebook promotions in order to boost the shop’s following. “By Christmas, we expect to have achieved the landmark figure of 10,000 followers on Instagram,” Mark says. “Even if only 20% engage regularly with us through this platform this means we have potentially 2,000 online customers we could encourage or entice to shop with us either in person or virtually.”
Social media also opens up the door to endless creative opportunities, and Clare says small businesses should take advantage of this with their online promotions. “I think it’s about using all the channels to spark [customers’] imaginations.” Whether that’s creating a daily video spotlighting certain products that are perfect for Christmas gifting or setting up a stunning image with your Christmas-themed favourites, “being really imaginative and using visuals that then get shared socially – Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook – using all of those channels to really get people excited about the fact that they might not be able to have a Christmas with other family members, but they can still make it really fun, and they can be more imaginative with food and make it more entertaining,” Clare says.
“If independent boutiques use creativity and visuals to really inspire customers, it might be that they get the edge on the bog-standard supermarket stuff.”
With the wheels already turning on your Christmas products and promotions, there are still plenty of simple ways that speciality food shops can boost their products’ value with add-ons and little extras. In doing that, “there’s an opportunity for these kinds of businesses to take the stress away for people,” says Clare.
While two-for one style promotions could eat into your revenues, Clare suggests bespoke gift wrapping, as a fantastic way to use relatively inexpensive bulk-bought wrapping paper, ribbons and tissue and turn it into a little time-saver for a customer. “That’s exceptional added value,” Clare says.
Hampers and sets are another way to bundle products to simplify the shopping process for customers. For instance, a cheesemonger could pre-wrap a cheese set on a wooden chopping board so that all customers need to do is take the wrapping off and put it on the table on the day. Butchers, on the other hand, could look into recipe cards for stuffing ideas or cooking instructions for customers who might be nervous to branch out from turkey to meats that could be more suitable for a smaller gathering. “It might take a little bit of research, but they don’t have to be a chef themselves. And that takes the stress away for the customer,” Clare said.
Mark says The Norfolk Deli will be offering a range of services to boost value for the customer, including a hamper concierge service where hampers are created based on different preferences and budgets. “Being an independent, there is always that little bit extra in terms of service,” he explains “The aim is to provide additional services which will make our customers’ lives easier.”
This is an area where speciality shops can excel. “Whatever happens we will be ready to help our customers get what they need,” Ted says. “We are here to welcome people in a safe distanced environment with an amazing offering. We have butchers to offer opinions on which meat to choose, our team on the deli are there with a smile and the team on the till asking how your day has been. The personal touch really does go a long way.”
Christmas will look different this year, whether lockdowns cause restrictions or families take it upon themselves to keep their distance from loved ones in order to keep them safe. But while customers may have to forge new traditions this year, they can trust that fine food retailers will be there to bring their Christmas cheer.