Last modified: November 29, 2018
The months following the busy November and December holiday season have historically been times that brands expect to see a significant drop in online sales. In many cases, it’s made worse by self-fulfilling prophecies, driven by a lack of marketing activity and active customer engagement tactics.
However, this doesn’t have to be the case – in this blog, we’ll explore some of the strategies brands can take to help reverse this trend and avoid the dreaded first quarter sales slump.
With a bit of planning and thoughtful execution, you can not only help increase sales in a typically low-performing period, but also build brand awareness and strengthen your relationships with your most loyal customers.
Sales drop-offs in Q1
After increased shopping during the holiday season, the months of January and February are some of the lowest spending months of the year for the average U.S. consumer. The new year usually brings low retail sales numbers, but that doesn’t mean those numbers can’t increase. In fact, January 2018 retail sales were up 3.6% when compared with January 2017.
Don’t let your brand get left in the dust. The most successful retailers realize that in order to avoid the “January sales slump” they must take matters into their own hands, planning and executing on strategies that excite and engage their shoppers.
From complex marketing automation techniques to simple themed campaigns, online businesses have many opportunities to turn the January sales slump into the January sales bump.
6 Tips to Help Increase January Sales
Here are six ideas and tactics that will help you avoid the January slump and drive increased engagement with your customers.
1. Leverage holiday activity
It’s incredibly important to take advantage of the spike in customers, especially new customers that most online stores see in November and December. Consider deploying retargeting tactics, such as ads and personalized emails, focused on categories or products that shoppers showed interest in but didn’t buy during the holiday season. Similarly, for those customers who did purchase from you in Q4, following up with complimentary products they are most likely to want can help drive even more sales.
Campaigns that take advantage of buy-it-later and wish-list features that customers engaged with during the holiday season provide another opportunity to convert holiday traffic into sales. While shoppers may not have had extra cash to spend at the end of the year, many will have gift cards or money from returning gifts to spend on saved items from your store now.
Staying in front of your customers – some of which you may have just acquired during the holiday season – helps differentiate you from your competitors in traditionally slow months. Leveraging holiday activity can influence shoppers to buy from you again and again.
2. Plan and secure an appropriate marketing budget
Q1 marketing budgets are often some of the smallest of the year. Many brands expect that customers prefer to spend their money during the holidays and consequently don’t pay as much attention to marketing messages in the beginning of the year. You can help your business rise above the rest by allocating a larger budget in Q1. Not only will you have lower competition, but your costs will likely be lower as well. If you take the time to curate creative and localized campaigns, you should see a greater return for every dollar you spend.
When possible, it can be helpful to deploy marketing automation ahead of time to help reduce the manual effort of marketing in Q1. With an increased focus on finishing up planning for the year ahead, it’s easy to let marketing efforts slip in the early months of the year. Executing early is a perfect way to get a jump start on avoiding the sales slump.
3. Leverage New Year themes and motifs
You don’t have to sell workout clothing to benefit from customers’ New Year’s resolutions. Any type of retailer can position their products to help customers keep their resolutions. In 2018, “eat healthier,” “get more exercise,” and “save more money” were the three most common New Year’s resolutions. Can your products help shoppers stress less, be more efficient, be healthier or get ahead at work? With almost 25% of people determined to focus on self-care, promoting the idea of treating oneself can work, too.
While potential customers may have New Year’s resolutions related to spending less money after the holiday season, they’ll likely be focused on other resolutions as well. Relaxing more, trying something new, traveling, and spending time with family are other common examples. Shoppers will be particularly responsive to campaigns angled at these kinds of resolutions.
Do you sell health and fitness products? Digital devices? Home furnishings, books or office supplies? Many types of products lend themselves to a “New Year” promotion. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and think about how your products could help them achieve their goals for 2019. This is a positive strategy for generating more sales and forming relationships with your shoppers.
4. Feature Q1 holiday campaigns
Taking advantage of existing promotional dates is an easy way to promote your brand, driving new customers and bringing existing ones back for more. While it is vital to plan specific offers around shopping holidays like Black Friday, taking advantage of existing holidays throughout the year allows you to use precise messaging and can help increase sales in lower performing months. Create clever messaging that connects the holiday to your brand or your products to provide an additional boost to your online store.
Whether it’s Valentine’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, or St. Patrick’s Day, there’s a holiday in Q1 that your brand can utilize in new promotional campaigns. And if not, simply create your own holiday! Establishing your own promotional holiday with consistent messaging and a consistent time of year can help turn a valley into a peak on the chart.
5. Move older inventory
Regardless of how many products you sold during the holiday season, you will likely have items that didn’t sell as well as you expected, or you may simply have excess stock of certain items. Now is not the time to forget about them – holding onto old inventory does nothing but cost your brand. Instead, cater to the price sensitive shopper and get your inventory moving with a January clearance sale. Consider giving shoppers bigger discounts if they purchase more items. And if you have data on shoppers’ preferences, this is a great time to send them personalized product recommendations. Take advantage of email and social media to advertise your post-holiday sales and drive traffic to your online store.
Another great way to move excess inventory is to use older, low-cost products as an incentive for your shoppers to take some sort of action. One example of this is offering a free gift with purchase if customers sign up for your newsletter. It’s a win-win: they get a free item and you get their email address to send future promotions and communications. Another example is incentivizing shoppers to buy higher-priced products with complimentary goodies. Threshold offers such as “Spend $100 or more and receive a free hat” are popular ways to get rid of old inventory that is collecting dust. Everyone wants something for free!
6. Find the silver lining in returns
After the holidays, you’re bound to get some refund requests. But when that happens, try offering an alternative solution to customers first. For example, if a shopper wants to return a $20 item, see if they’d like a $25 credit to your store instead. And anytime something arrives broken, see if customers would be okay with having a replacement item sent as soon as possible in lieu of a refund. Ensuring your brand has a strong holiday return policy in place is crucial to building loyalty and maintaining strong relationships with your customers.
According to Narvar research, 96% of US consumers would shop with a retailer again if they had a good experience with its returns process. So, offering a quality experience is a valuable way for brands to secure future sales. Facilitating this process for the holidays and beyond is particularly important because customers find returning gifts to be more difficult when there is such a high volume of returns. Retailers should make the returns process as transparent and inexpensive as possible, and allow for in-store returns if applicable, to match consumers’ preferences.
These kinds of tactics will help to boost sales and drive customer engagement during one of the lowest performing times of the year. Contact us to learn more about how Digital River can help your brand avoid the dreaded January sales slump and ring in the new year with ecommerce success.