Features

July 6, 2023 • Sarah Schwartz
Selling Xmas: 20 tips to drive 2023 holiday sales

While the 2022 holiday season fell short of the forecast from the National Retail Federation (NRF), the news was not all bad.

Paper Luxe's exquisite Rifle vignette.
Paper Luxe’s exquisite Rifle vignette.

Total 2022 holiday retail sales from November to December — including online and other non-store sales — were up 5.3% over 2021 to $936.3 billion. The organization cited historic levels of inflation and interest rate hikes as potential culprits.

“We knew it could be touch-and-go for final holiday sales given early shopping in October that likely pulled some sales forward, plus price pressures and cold, stormy weather,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for NRF. “The pace of spending was choppy, and consumers may have pulled back more than hoped, but these numbers show they navigated a challenging, inflation-driven environment reasonably well.”

Online sales emerged as the star, up 9.5% over November and December 2021. In this environment, little choices make big impacts. So, I queried several retailers to find out what worked for them in ‘22 — and a glimpse of their ‘23 plans.

PLANNING, AND PRE-PLANNING

1. Look to the Past. Jennifer Luna, owner & CEO of Paper Luxe, informed by her experiences over the past two years, responded accordingly. “In 2021, customers shopped very early and often as there was a sense of scarcity due to supply chain issues. In 2022, everyone waited until the last couple weeks, and then panic shopped. We’re really hoping to encourage customers to shop earlier by holding strategic sales and workshops as early as October!”

2. Find Your Focus, Early. For Audrey Woollen, founder and creative director of Urbanic, Christmas ‘22 was “unknown territory” as it was the first holiday season for the shop’s flagship in Los Angeles, after 17 years in Venice. “We put everything we had into the season to best maximize sales and I’m so happy our hard work paid off!” she shared. “We started mapping out our promotional schedule in September with an angle and a strategy behind all the marketing to be more customer- and experience-focused rather than just a sales and product pitch.”

3. Mark Your Calendars — Permanently. Loyal customers love annual affairs. “Our two biggest events of the year are our Holiday Open House, the first Saturday in November, and Small Business Saturday (SBS), the Saturday after Thanksgiving,” Luna detailed. “The open house kicks off the holiday season and creates excitement and buzz. Décor and holiday cards are (typically) top sellers. On SBS, our community really rallies around our local businesses and people begin purchasing all their giftables.”

4. Order Early. Pei Sim, owner and founder of The Paper + Craft Pantry, has blocked off time to start holiday planning and buying on her calendar in the coming months. “[This] still feels scary as [it] will just sit in storage for months,” she noted. “But the payoff is not having to stress about backorders or delays come fall!”

Photos courtesy of Urbanic
Glimpses of an Urbanic holiday: the new storefront dressed for the holidays; the right ribbon and wrap make an enormous statement; one of the many dogs who got their pic taken in a Santa hat; customers get a red carpet holiday moment when their orders arrive; great gift wraps provide smart holiday store décor.

PROMOTIONS

5. Think Spooky. Grace Kang, founder and chief buyer of Pink Olive, jump-started the holiday with Halloween business in October. “We did a Ghoul Gang Launch Party in our Little Rock, [Arkansas], store in time for the ‘Hocus Pocus 2’ movie. In the city stores, we made sure to be fully stocked with Halloween cards and decorations in a bigger way. We sold out to the piece. We’ll definitely repeat it next year.”

6. Think Like a Shopper. For Sim, the holidays should speak to various observances — and offer little welcoming amenities. “Everything just feels extra magical that time of the year, and we love being a wonderland for our community. We are excited to add more inclusive products for those who celebrate different holidays! An unexpected success was doing simple things to bring joy and delight — like complimentary giftwrapping on weekends and a gifting concierge, where our team assists in picking out gifts!”

7. Play with a Theme. Paper Luxe kicks off December with its 12 Days of Christmas sales, garnering excitement and high sales, both in stores and online. “Each day features a significant discount on a particular vendor or product category.”

8. The Fine Print — And Paws. Urbanic’s Sweet Friday was similar to Black Friday — “but better,” laughed Woollen. “We hosted a designated mailbox and typewriter for children to type and mail a letter to Santa inside the shop, and we snapped countless pics of our local dog friends with mini Santa hats on for their owners.”

9. Craft Away. Another Urbanic promotion was its “Holiday Hangout,” featuring a well-stocked crafting bar where customers could make gift tags or a gift-topper. “We loaded up the table full of wrapping paper scraps and other creative supplies, and people stayed all night crafting, socializing and shopping.”

10. Consider a Cash Grab. Paper Luxe’s newest 2022 event was its Grab Bag Sale. “We offered three different sized bags at $20, $25 and $30,” Luna explained. “They could then fill them with anything in the designated area. Customers loved the great deals and anticipation, and we loved being able to move older products physically out of our space, and generate cash flow from products that have been around too long!”

11. Play the Host. Don’t feel the need to envision every event — look to your community, suggested Luna. “We love to host other small businesses to generate foot traffic. We invited famous hand-cut silhouette artist, Karl Johnson, to create beautiful children’s silhouettes right in the store. A local macaron-maker, Girl Loves Cake Desserts, also holds Thanksgiving and Christmas popups. For 2023, we’re hoping to hold weekly popups for other local artists so they can get additional exposure, while we can meet their biggest fans.”

12. Think Big. Pink Olive extended the SBS weekend into a five-day shopping event, offering a discount for all five days and a goodie bag incentive on Saturday. “Our customers appreciate the little things, and who doesn’t want something free?” Kang asked. “It’s all about that in-person connection and personalized experience.”

Photos courtesy of Paper Luxe
Up at Paper Luxe, the Grab Bag sale excitement started while waiting in the long line outside; at the sale itself, shoppers score bargains while old merchandise moves out the door; dynamic product groupings move individual items; a dedicated spot offers a tree for every taste; curated boxes make gifting a snap; a homey display.

THE DIGITAL DOMAIN

13. Be Flexible. While the physical doors of Greer Chicago have closed, it has maintained a fairly large stationery shop inside Wolf & Badger in SoHo since 2019, adding a second dedicated shop inside its new Los Angeles store in 2022, said owner Chandra Greer. “What’s really fun about this model is if something isn’t working for us online, we can send the stock to our shops, and vice versa. We’re fortunate that both shops are strong; they’re in fantastic shopping locations, managed by an experienced, caring team, so pretty much anything we send sells through really fast! We do think about what each market would be most receptive to in stocking them. Both have strong tourist traffic, so sophisticated LA- or NY-centric items always do well.”

Photo courtesy of Urbanic
Urbanic’s holiday fun starts as soon the shop window is spied.

14. Go Gratis. Indulging online customers just requires originality, Woollen pointed out. “[In our] digital marketing we intentionally tried to stay more personal, [with] little things to maintain the authenticity of the Urbanic brand. We included little bags of holiday treats tied up with string with web orders and posted a video tutorial of how to wrap the perfect gift. In our newsletter, we’ve included a downloadable Thanksgiving placecard template we designed and spotlighted how each team member keeps the holidays special.”

15. Hold that Sale! During its 12 Days of Christmas promotion, Paper Luxe offers to hold all daily purchases until Dec. 12 and then ship items all together to avoid multiple shipping fees. “If they order over $100 combined, shipping is free,” Luna smiled.

16. Go Live. Luna’s weekly live sales are excellent sales- generators and one of her biggest sources of brand loyalty. “We have a lot of customers who, for whatever reason, can’t make it into the shops often. They appreciate the intimate and casual feeling of our lives where we connect with them as if we were in their living room showing them a few of our favorite items up close. After the holidays, in early January, we also hold a holiday clearance live sale where everything is at least 50% off. It is fast, upbeat and fun, and we’re able to sell off all our leftover holiday items and our customers get to score big deals. Win-win! It’s also a nice flow of cash in an otherwise quiet sales month.”

‘23 PLANS

17. Take a Picture. Woollen is considering hosting a photographer to offer customers fun holiday portraits with a festive backdrop — and she is expanding into wholesale. “In ‘22, we launched a collection of holiday wrapping sheets, which people really loved, so we’ll definitely add more this year and wholesale them to other shops, as well. I’m really excited!”

Photo courtesy of Paper Luxe
Photo courtesy of Paper Luxe

18. Lean In. The success of Urbanic’s Holiday Hangout is informing its 2023 promotions, finished Woollen. “We loved the response, and moved right into 2023’s first quarter, hosting ‘Sip and Paint’ events, which have been selling out, and also added creative workshops for the little ones. In the fourth quarter, we will definitely keep these craft socials going strong! People crave human connection and experience, so it’s an absolute pleasure to come up with new ideas and roll them out.”

19. Wrapper’s Delight. Luna is currently contemplating a standalone giftwrapping station. “We can have a team member operate it during busy events, but customers can use it free all season long for gifts they purchase in our stores. It will free up valuable counter space at the register and provide a value-added service. We’re also planning to have empty gift boxes pre-lined with tissue and crinkle paper available and on display for those who would like to put together their own gift boxes. We’re happy to tie a bow on it and ship it (for a fee). We’ve found full-service customers who buy pre-made gift boxes; others want to curate their own, but are short on time and creativity when it comes to the packaging and presentation. So we’re trying everything we can to make it an easy decision!”

20.Think Small, But Personal. Sim finds valuing quality over quantity a winning equation. “We will likely continue the small joys and delights for our shop guests during the holiday season — and hold space for any suggestions or opportunities our team may have!”


Top photo: In the clever hands of Audrey Woollen, a simple vintage typewriter became a powerful holiday sales driver. Here it silently promotes Urbanic‘s gift wrapping services, and gifts. Small shoppers also used it to two-finger type their letters to Santa during yet another promotion.


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