So what can we learn from the January Sales?

By Rachelle Headland, Managing Director

I watched Secrets of the Sales last week; a great documentary run by the BBC going behind the scenes of some of our high street stores to find out about their sales strategies. The objective being to help shoppers be more savvy sales shoppers, as if they weren’t already you might think. I must say though, it did reaffirm some of the obvious truths about shopping behaviour that we can easily forget when fighting for share of wallet on our immensely competitive high street.

Firstly, building excitement is key. Heavy discounting doesn’t make up for poor brand engagement, and euphoria only really kicks in with shoppers when they’ve found that amazing bargain on a truly great brand – so marketing efforts throughout the year and at Christmas absolutely contribute to your performance in the January sales as the strong end of year performance of John Lewis and the poor end of year performance of M&S and Debenhams prove. Savvy and well respected retailers make the most of this winter and summer ritual by also negotiating special offers with key suppliers to run alongside their clearance sale, and by giving exclusive sales previews to their most loyal and high spending customers.

Secondly, and perhaps most interestingly, is the element of sport for shoppers. Make it too easy and shoppers won’t feel they’ve won. This isn’t simply a waiting game, i.e. the longer you hold out the bigger the reductions will be. It’s also about being in the know through online searches and twitter feeds and then the pain-staking sifting through items on sales in stores. It needs to feel in some ways like a treasure hunt without appearing like a jumble sale.

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Thirdly, Sales communications and strategies still need to support the brand. Sales drive huge numbers of people to stores and if they leave feeling great and had a fairly decent experience given the crowds, they’ll be returning when the sales are over. John Lewis partners will continue to give you sound advice on sales items in the same way they do any other time of the year and Top Man will still provide you with a personal shopping service (to entice you in to buying new seasons collections on top of end of season discounted items).

Lastly, as we know, discounts are here to stay, but they can be used strategically to the benefit of the brand throughout the year. It can be tempting to worry more about your competitors than your shoppers, when this Christmas proved that retailers that held their nerve and didn’t start discounting until after Christmas reported better profits. Equally, retailers that carried their Christmas advertising campaign through to their in-store experience in a meaningful way also did well. For shoppers, it’s about value not simply price, never more so than in an economic climate like this.

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