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Maximizing Christmas sales.

The holiday season is just around the corner and, after August sales showed some promising signs of recovery, retailers are cautiously hoping for a strong finish to what has been a tough year for many.

For those looking to capture a substantial share of the gift-giving business this year, Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, has some tips. "Convenience is gift shoppers' top priority this year," she says. "Shoppers seek special gifts that are just right for the recipient, but what they want most is to shop stores that are convenient and make their gift-shopping experience quick and painless."

As a result, consumers will tend to shop for gifts in the same stores they shop for themselves since they are familiar with the layouts and locations of departments. Danziger further suggests that retailers can enhance shopping convenience by adopting a few simple tactics:

* Create a list of top gift ideas for key relations, such as spouse, child or coworker, with price points and post it at checkouts and, where appropriate, in windows. Where feasible, end-caps should be devoted to gift displays and ideas.

* Staff stores adequately so that shoppers can obtain help when needed and not be forced to wait in long checkout lines. "Since everybody else is depersonalizing shopping, retailers that put the personal back in will be greatly rewarded," explains Danziger.

* In order to enable store associates to give customers effective service provide them with a list of questions that will help shoppers through their decision-making processes. In addition, make sure that associates know the merchandise well enough to be able to make intelligent recommendations.

* Be on trend. In other words, have the brands and items that are popular" now. For some retailers, such as Target Stores, this is a way of life. Others in the mass market will have to exert a special effort.

By executing these points effectively, a retailer can position itself as a store with appeal to gift givers, a critical source of differentiation, according to Danziger. "Gifting is a rare opportunity for" a store to touch two consumer segments--buyer and recipient," she says. "[they can] make the most of that opportunity by building a loyal following among both."

She adds that gift buying is not limited to the last two months of the year; it goes on all year long, driven not only by other gifting occasions, but by the fact that gift givers tend to scout for items all year long and will buy and store items well in advance of a gift-giving occasion. Consequently Danziger feels that gift shopping should be a year-round merchandising focus.

Finally, Danziger urges retailers not to treat their gift certificate/gift card programs as an afterthought. "This misses a huge opportunity to build shopper loyalty among gift givers and recipients," she emphasizes. "Increasing sales of gift certificates should be a cornerstone of a retailer's gifting strategy, since with a gift card they reach two shoppers, not just one. Gift cards should be appealing to give and to receive."

While some of the consultant's suggestions are more appropriate to specialty and department store retailers, the majority of her ideas deserve consideration by mass market formats as well. And she is almost certainly right that shoppers will reward those retailers who enhance the entire gift-shopping experience.
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Title Annotation:Opinion
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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