The holiday season is one of the best times of the year for many store owners.
Customers flock to retail stores to pick up gifts for themselves and loved ones. So much so, the average consumer spent $736 on goods during the 2021 holiday shopping season—a 17% increase from the year prior.
For many retailers, it’s the time of year when sales move their accounts back to black. But what happens when consumer spending sprees come to an inevitable end?
This guide shares how you can stay in touch with your customers and motivate them to come back throughout slow months. The goal: to continue driving retail sales, even in the post-holiday spending slump.
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When are the slowest months for retail sales?
The first few months of the year are typically the slowest retail months. After spending significant sums in the months leading up to the holidays, some shoppers have the blues after receiving their credit card bills in January. This coincides with the drop in foot traffic reported by Adentro.
As a result, the first few months of the year are some of the lowest spending months according to US Census data—but that doesn’t mean shopping grinds to a complete halt. Shoppers still spend north of $490 million throughout slow sales periods.
Despite the fact that January is typically the slowest retail period of the year, research shows January sales rose by 6.4% in 2022 over 2021—likely due to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
The retail industry is rebuilding itself after the pandemic. Brick-and-mortar retailers are thriving by giving customers the safe shopping experiences they missed out on during the start of the pandemic.
What to do when business is slow
- Audit your tech stack
- Analyze the competitive landscape
- Interview customers
- Brainstorm new products
- Network and build relationships
- Employee training and development
Slow retail months can be hard to contend with. Instead of sitting around and waiting for your next customer to walk through the door, here’s a list of activities to keep you busy throughout slow seasons.
Audit your tech stack
Retail technology exists to make managing your store easier. That’s only possible if the tools you’re using complement your store, rather than hinder it.
Case in point: a retail store with an outdated point-of-sale (POS) system has a long checkout line throughout peak shopping seasons. Combine that with high temperatures during the summer months and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
But modern point of sale systems like Shopify POS have built-in features to help you bust lineups at checkout and complete transactions faster.
Sell the way your customers shop
Only Shopify POS unifies online and in-store sales and makes checkout seamless. Get all the tools you need to break free from the counter and sell wherever your customers are without worrying about your tech stack, integrations, or fragmented sales reports.
While you’re working through this audit, consider other retail technology that you could add to your toolstack. New trends in this space include:
- QR codes for customers to redeem discounts and shop online via their smartphone
- RFID technology to accurately track inventory levels and replenish stock
- Store management software, such as Gusto to track payroll and Dor to monitor retail analytics
Either way, slow retail months are the perfect time to implement this new technology. You’ll have time to train store associates on how to use the new features and be ready to serve an influx of shoppers once things pick back up.
Analyze the competitive landscape
Competitors are a natural part of operating a business. Stay one step ahead of yours by monitoring what other retailers are doing during slow months.
Some retailers have leaned into online shopping as global ecommerce sales began to claim a bigger stake of all sales throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. If that’s the case in your industry, build an online storefront to coincide with your store. It could supplement your income when footfall in shopping malls is at its lowest.
Read more: Clicks to Bricks: Why Ecommerce Brands Are Leaning Into Physical Retail
Existing customers are your store’s best asset.
Not only can they share feedback to improve the shopping experience, but 65% of a brand’s total revenue comes from repeat customers.
Spend the slow retail seasons getting to know your customers. Host focus groups to quiz shoppers on why they choose your products over a competitor’s. Send prototypes of new products to get their opinion. Ask for ideas on events you could host in-store.
Each tactic provides you with feedback to improve the shopping experience, while also cultivating relationships with the people who keep your business running: paying customers.
Brainstorm new products
Speaking of new product lines, slow retail seasons are the perfect time to brainstorm new inventory.
Alongside customer feedback, discover new product ideas through:
- Social media forums, such as subreddits or Facebook groups
- Competitor analysis—not just retail stores, but Amazon sellers and ecommerce merchants
- Trendsetters in your industry (i.e., influencers or well-known brands)
The good news? Investing time into product development earlier in the year increases the odds of launching them during peak shopping seasons. Imagine the hype you’d build around your store by debuting new products on Black Friday.
Network and build relationships
During busy retail seasons, there’s no time for anything but reordering inventory and selling. Partnerships with other brands often fall on the backburner for this reason—despite the multitude of benefits on offer for everyone involved.
Take advantage of slow seasons and spend your free time exploring retail partnerships. From co-hosting events with local small business owners to collaborating on a new product line, it’ll build buzz prior to busy seasons if you invest the time into a new partnership now.
Employee training and development
The retail industry has a higher percentage of untrained employees than any other, with 32% of retail employees saying they haven’t received any formal training.
During slow seasons, when your store isn’t packed with shoppers, host training sessions with your retail staff. Demonstrate how to use new technology, simulate scenarios (like dealing with unhappy customers) to help staff handle them better, and throw team-building activities to build morale.
The impact won’t be noticed only by your customers who have a more pleasant experience in-store. Training programs are also perks that attract and retain employees—something that’s important considering turnover costs the retail industry $19 billion each year.
Once again I’m led to believe the real future of retail is treating staff really well & training them well.— Tom Goodwin (@tomfgoodwin) January 12, 2020
And having great store managers.
And actually there is some nice tech that can do this. Things to help people swap shifts, feel part of a group, plan ahead, etc
How to survive the slow retail season
If you’re all planned out, there are techniques to drive customers into your store throughout slow shopping seasons.
- Improve customer journey with automation
- Use a multichannel approach
- Experiment with selling at events
- Refresh your store layout
- Invest in social media
- Explore partnerships
- Budget accordingly
Start with these activities.
Improve customer journey with automation
One way to keep sales rolling in after the holidays is to continue the conversation with your customers. By building personalized customer journeys that are time- or action-triggered, you can keep in touch with your audience and stay top-of-mind with customers new and old.
Examples of how to do this include:
- Provide custom product recommendations built based on past purchases
- Create in-store kiosks with built-in chatbots to answer frequently asked questions
- Automate the product return flow to process refunds, exchanges, or credit notes faster
McKinsey reports that automation will impact most elements of the merchant role, with the most significant impacts on merchandise planning, pricing, and inventory replenishment. But the investment pays off: marketers who use automation see conversion rates as high as 50%.
As you keep your subscribers up-to-date on promotions, sales, and loyalty rewards, they’ll have another reason to buy from you again and again—especially when they’re in the mood to buy.
Use a multichannel approach
When the post-holiday slump hits, rather than sticking to one or two marketing channels to reach your target persona, build campaigns that work together across several different platforms like:
- Social media
- Online communities
- Pay-per-click advertising
Take it from LIVELY, a once digitally native brand that now encourages customer retention with Shopify Point of Sale technology. Store associates collect the names and email addresses of its shoppers at the checkout, allowing LIVELY to retarget customers long after they exit the store. That’s a great channel to engage previous customers during slow months.
In a world of modern consumers who are constantly checking email, looking at various apps, and browsing online, the multi-channel approach can help you stay on message with your audience.
At the same time, it’s easier than ever before for shoppers to browse your store and eventually make a purchase. As many as nine out of 10 customers prefer this omnichannel experience, even if the purchase arrives six months into the year as pursestrings begin to loosen.
Experiment with selling at events
If the first quarter of the year is slower for your store, this is the time to start researching relevant events you’d like to participate in during the coming year.
This form of experiential retail is quickly becoming a huge selling point for stores.
Some 81% of consumers are willing to pay more for experiences that upgrade the shopping experience.
And, according to a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, more than a third of consumers (35%) plan to engage with brands via experiential moments over the coming year.
Take advantage of slower shopping seasons by gathering materials that will make these events a worthwhile experience. Plan your experiential retail strategy for the coming year, including in-person events like:
- Craft fairs
- Local markets
- Pop-up shops in a new city
Read more: How to Choose the Right Events for Your In-Person Sales
Refresh your store layout
Speaking of providing experiences to shoppers, changing the layout of your store can have a major impact on sales once foot traffic begins to pick up.
Instead of having store associates work overtime to rearrange shelving and create planograms, treat slow periods as an opportunity to refresh the layout, when disruption will affect the least amount of customers.
Best practices for arranging your retail store layout include:
- Focus on the left-hand side of the store. Most people enter a store and turn left, so placing your best-selling products on a “power wall” could improve conversion rates.
- Leave empty space at the entrance. This acts as a decompression zone, so those visiting for the first time don’t become overwhelmed.
- Switch up your window display. Drive more people into the store—and away from potential competitors—by designing a window display that catches their attention.
Pair your layout switches with a deep clean of your store. The vast majority (95%) of consumers expect retailers to have COVID safety protocols in place for in-store shopping.
We go through the entire store (during slow months) and wipe down all the products, from the smallest bottles to the larger bags of protein. While doing this, we go through and pull any short-dated or expired products that might have been missed. The last thing we want is any customer purchasing an expired product from us.
Invest in social media
Slow retail months bear little impact on how people use social media. The average consumer spends 25.6 hours each month on TikTok, with YouTube and Facebook falling shortly behind—both boasting upward of 16 hours of monthly usage time.
With more time to dedicate to marketing, treat slow shopping seasons as a time to improve your social media presence. That could mean:
- Hosting a livestream that entertains potential customers while at home
- Investing money in Facebook advertising to reach shoppers within close proximity to your store
- Collecting and publishing user-generated content, including photos and videos made by happy customers
Almost half of retailers plan to increase their social commerce investment in 2022. Make sure you’re not left behind by preparing your social media strategy throughout slow months.
September has been a rough month on Facebook for nearly everyone.— Savannah Sanchez | UGC | TikTok Ads (@social_savannah) September 23, 2020
For the last two years, I have also witnessed that September is slow but never *this* slow.
BFCM is just around the corner. It's important to use this time wisely to plan for Q4.
Related post: When Instagram Meets Real Life: Transforming Stores into Content Studios
Partnering with a retail store allows you to access shared resources, reach new audiences, and improve customer loyalty.
Some 72% of retail partnership programs have been shown to increase retention.
Roberta Perry, founder of ScrubzBody, says that alongside the usual January drop off, “October is a quiet month for our retail business because we have a once-a-year BOGO sale in November, and so people wait to buy. But we are so busy making things that we don’t notice too much.”
To get through those slow months, Roberta says, “First I reach out to all our wholesale and private label clientele in October and make sure they are set for the holidays. Both wholesale and private label accounts were additions to our retail business model as ways to fill in during COVID-19 slow times and we work hard to keep those accounts. That usually results in a nice amount of new orders.”
The last thing you want to do is run out of inventory mid-peak shopping season. Inventory shortages cost retailers $568.7 billion each year.
But replenishing inventory too early can be just as much of an issue. Not only will you have to pay fees to store excess merchandise, but consumer preferences change quickly. What’s in-demand now won’t always be a bestseller in six months’ time.
Prepare for these seasonal changes by creating an open-to-buy plan. This budget planning method takes existing inventory into account, helping retailers who sell seasonal products to budget inventory costs:
Open to buy (OTB) = Planned sales + planned markdowns + planned end-of-month inventory - planned beginning of month inventory
In September and October, we know that pricing for summer patio furniture will drop and we can expect an influx of buyers taking advantage. To prepare for that, we make sure we have enough stock to meet that demand ahead of time.
With no explanation, January was really good to us online. Usually a slow month for us… we’re sold out of 75% of products and still having close to record days.— Matt Schroeder 🐢 (@SchroedsBiz) January 29, 2022
I am trying to soak it in, but can’t help but feel frustrated because all the potential $ left on the table.
Help your retail store thrive during slow months
The season following the holidays doesn’t have to be a slow one. With these tactics, you can keep driving sales and stay in touch with your audience to strengthen relationships new and old.
Just remember: It’s important to stay active and to not let your marketing efforts go dark after the holidays wrap up. You’ve likely brought in many new customers over the holidays. Keep the conversation going to weather the post-Christmas storm.
This post was originally written by Jason Dent and has been updated by Elise Dopson.
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