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Glistening lights and over-sized baubles hanging from the rafters, staff decked out in Santa hats, Merry Xmas Everybody playing over the speakers – it’s a familiar scene in many a food shop throughout the UK come winter. But this year won’t quite be a conventional Christmas. While we’re still expecting the traditional soundtrack – because there’s nothing like a bit of Wham! and Wizzard to lift the spirits – the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years means things will play out a bit differently.
With many of the multiples announcing their festive ranges early due to customer demand, some retailers are making it perfectly clear to their customers that Christmas isn’t cancelled, despite infection rates rising. And as a retailer or foodservice outlet, there’s certainly no reason you can’t spread good cheer despite the unprecedented year we’ve all had – in fact, quite the opposite.
So how can you create a festive atmosphere and magical experience for your customers this Christmas?
Christmas often offers a sense of escapism for people, but this year even more so, as many consumers may be making up for not spending time with friends and family last year, and treating themselves to a few comforting, traditional treats. As an independent retailer, it’s a great opportunity to help make Christmas extra special, particularly during a time when a growing sense of community is bringing people together.
Though business and consumer confidence are on shaky ground thanks to supply chain issues and price inflation, the festive period is likely to see consumer spend increase. As people have become accustomed to braving the shops during Covid-19, we may see plenty of people visiting their local retailer to stock up on Christmas treats and edible gifts as well as essentials for the big day.
For customers that do shop in-store, creating festive cheer will make their shopping experience with you that much more enjoyable. As with most years, retailers may jazz up their shop with the customary wreaths, create promotional Christmas posters and maybe even don red aprons and Santa hats. But this year, why not go one step further to put a smile on your customer’s faces – festive themed face masks, perhaps?
Just like last year, your customers will also be looking to ensure you’re keeping customer and staff safety and hygiene in mind. Whilst it’s unknown what measures may be in place in the lead-up to Christmas, it’s likely that social distancing will still be important, so a safe and smooth customer journey is key. This could also present opportunities for retailers to get creative, perhaps by incorporating a Christmas journey with a one-way system throughout your shop: an express sleigh-ride from entrance to till.
The shopping experience goes beyond the atmospherics though, so consider the items you stock and how they can be incorporated into gift ideas: you may consider creating a Coronavirus Christmas Box, featuring luxury treats for people to enjoy with friends and family.
You’ll no doubt be stocking up on exclusive products for the festive period, so remember to make the most of marketing and communications to showcase these items and inform your customers about what’s available. The way you engage with your customers will be hugely important to their festive experience, particularly for those who won’t be shopping in-store.
We know that online sales have been a lifeline for independent retailers since lockdown, and this sales channel will prove fruitful during the holiday season, too. You may still not be able to give online shoppers the full-on experience they’d typically enjoy in-store, but that’s not to say you can’t create a magical journey online. Consider adding festive design elements to your website, adding new seasonal banners to promote exclusive products, and setting up a separate Christmas section in your e-shop. Visuals like this can go a long way in creating a more memorable shopping experience for your online visitors.
Christmas is often a stressful time, so many people may be looking for the convenience of home delivery as well as a click-and-collect service. For retailers that haven’t already done so, now could be the ideal time to set this up. Aside from offering home delivery of customers’ orders, you could also offer food hampers and care packages that customers can gift to friends or others in the local community, lovingly wrapped and hand-delivered to people’s doorstep.
Utilising social media and digital forms of communication like emails and newsletters will also add to your customer’s Christmas shopping experience. Make the most of these platforms while relaying messages around your Christmas stock, offers, gift ideas and services. Share details of any exclusive products you have in store with updates on when they’re likely to arrive or if stock is running low. Share personal thoughts on what makes your Christmas special. Or why not share family recipes for people to try at home, while incorporating products you’ll be stocking for the season?
This is also a great chance to communicate the story behind the brands that you sell, as they too may be doing something special for Christmas that may help you promote their products. What’s more, teaming up with brands you stock or suppliers you work with on social media is a great way to support other small businesses, help customers to become more connected with the products they’re buying, and reach potential new customers – it’s all about spreading good cheer!
Christmas brings with it a chance for celebration and a welcome relief from what’s been a whirlwind of a year. But as independent retailers prepare for a festive period that’s not yet back to normal, with talk of vaccine passports and booster vaccinations ongoing – there are a host of opportunities to make this year’s holiday season shopping experience more magical and memorable than ever.
This article was originally published in November 2020.