Seven tips for retailers wanting to survive a tough spring

11 tips for surviving a tough Q1

It's not just the athletes in Sochi who are suffering a chilly time of it; worldwide retail's undergoing a serious cold snap following icy sales and frosty forecasts. So, what are you going to do to survive what's set to be a pretty brutal Q1?

Well, as the St. Bernard dogs of retail, we've pulled together seven easy-to-implement tips and strategies to keep the wolves from your door and the icicles off your nose. All of these activities can be implemented within weeks, not months, and if you follow our advice we'll guarantee you a positive outcome.

There. That's better already, isn't it?

1. Experiment, experiment, experiment

Same-old-same-old just doesn't cut it anymore. Just look at the retailers who had a bad Christmas this year - they all relied on tedious old tactics like generic across-the-board discounting thinking that what worked in the past would work in the present. The ones who thrived (John Lewis, Next, Ted Baker, Ryman) were the ones who didn't even discount at all but, instead, tried new, engaging tactics to capture the public's imagination. The trick is not to spend months and months over-thinking your experimetns but just to start doing and learning_. _As Dell's brilliant Stephen Tedjamulia puts it: "Leverage the different technologies that vendors are creating… then try to go to market as fast as possible, experiment with real customers, track that and add kerosine to the things that work.”

2. Gamification + jeopardy = sales

Flash sales are a common tactic to drum up interest but, instead of making products routinely available for a day, introduce some double-jeopardy where products can both time out and sell out. As the supply runs low and the clock runs down, the customer is faced with a stark choice: buy now (and tell your friends to buy, too) or run the risk of missing out altogether. Alternatively, don't just put products on sale - trail them first. Let your customers sign up for an alert so that they can be the first to know when a deal goes live. Make them aware that, if they don't sign up, they'll most likely miss the sale and miss out on the deal. Then add a further layer of gamification by telling them that the more people who sign up in advance, the bigger and better that deal will become in terms of quantity and pricing. By applying these tactics, you've turned a simple product sale into a vibrant event and that's some serious progress.

3. Less push, more pull

Retail promotions are strange. The retailer makes all the decisions, selects the products and merchandises the deals. Meanwhile, the only involvement the customer gets to have is handing over their money at the end of it all. That's not to say that retailers don't know their markets and margins better than everyone but, instead of pitching a deal for (say) electric blankets at millions of people and hoping that a thousand bite, have you ever considered asking your customers what deals they'd like to see and going with that instead? Not only are you empowering the people who matter most to your bottom line, you're also effectively amassing pre-sales - and that's money in the bank.

4. Influence your influencers

One thing got badly overlooked when retail started to transition to digital: the immeasurable benefits of having knowledgeable and passionate staff walking the floors (and, crucially, tipping customers over the line when it came to reaching into their pockets). Well, online influencers are the digital equivalent of that. If someone is crazy about your products and has a large social following, you'd be insane not to inspire them to patrol the shopfloor of the internet, spreading the word and acquiring new customers on your behalf. And here's another tip: try coupling this with tactic 3 above and empowering influencers to curate handpicked deals for their communities. Then just sit back and watch the traffic, and revenue, roll in.

5. Everything should be dynamic

The days of static prices are over. If I see you charging $29.99 for a an anti-pimple cream, I may or may not buy (I probably will - something red and angry seems to be developing on my nose), but I've got absolutely no reason to encourage my friends to follow suit. But if I see that you'll lower that price to $19.99 should enough people commit to buying then, all of a sudden, I've got a huge incentive to share. Simple. And it's not just prices which need to be dynamic. That other time-honoured but increasingly out-dated retail standby, the promotional code, is also begging for a 21st Century reinvention. Instead of handing out discounts to stimulate sales, make customers earn their rewards by sharing - then increase the value of the code as more and more people share. By utilising the viral power of your customers' networks, you can achieve significantly greater reach and cut-through for considerably less spend.

6. Get your fans and followers shopping

Two years ago, brands spent big on growing their social audiences, collecting fans and followers as though that were an end in itself. Last year, the emphasis was on 'engagement' - another exercise in collection, but this time it was comments and shares and 'likes'. In 2014, the goal has to be monetisation, generating real ROI from social so that it stops costing you money and starts making you money. The common belief is that social's like a party - and no one likes being sold to at a party. Obviously, whoever coined that myth never went to a Tuppaware party, because the actual truth is that retail thrives wherever people collect, and social is absolutely no exception. Present your social audiences with interactive, engaging deals - opportunities to get closer to your brand and be rewarded for their participation - and see for yourself how social isn't just a plaything for the marketers, it can also be an exciting, and lucrative, new channel for retail.

7. Introduce the concept of 'winning'

On some level, all retail is about winning. The customer likes to think they've got a great product at a great price, that they've won. The retailer talks about winning business, winning the customer over, winning market share, etc. But this broad sense of 'winning' can also be literalised to dramatic effect. For every product or product category in your range, introduce a real winner per each set period of time: one customer, chosen either through chance or skill, to win the product for free. That could be the customer who refers in the most other customers (skill), or it could be every 1,000th purchaser (chance), or any other entry mechanism. The effect is much like buying a lottery ticket: you don't buy one because you really think there's a chance of winning, but there's always that "what if...?" - and that's a very powerful motivator.

If you'd like to discuss these or any other tactics for generating more sales over the next few months, drop us a line on Twitter, or get in touch here. We promise you'll get a very warm response.