Clare Rayner: How Retailers Can Win at the January Sales

How Retailers Can Win at the January Sales

For many consumers the “ January Sales ” are a much anticipated opportunity to bag a bargain. For retailers this is a great opportunity to grab footfall, meet new customers and, ideally, turn those new visitors into longer-term loyal shoppers.

However, in recent years the January sales have become something of a misnomer, with major chains launching early sales, occasionally even ahead of Christmas. Customers appear to have got wise to this and have almost been forcing retailers to discount by holding back on their spending, leaving their shopping until later and later, knowing that if they win in this “game of chicken” that retailers will crack under the pressure of plummeting sales and will go into heavy-discounting and sale mode BEFORE Christmas. In addition, with unseasonably mild weather in December, consumers have also not been purchasing their heavy winter wardrobes and with clothing retailers selling seasons being out of sync with the weather conditions, retailers are having to rethink the way they hand the traditional Autumn/Winter to Spring/Summer transition and associated end of season sales.

In 2014 a huge number of retailers launched their “post-Christmas sale” online and immediately after closing on Christmas Eve, indeed, Christmas Day afternoon turned out to be quite a sales spike for online retailers as people turned to their mobile devices to browse for bargains whilst letting their turkey and mince pies settle. Now, you might think that with so many consumers diverting to online shopping for their bargain hunting that physical outlets would be negatively impacted, however, this was less of an issue than many predicted. The annual family day out at the Boxing Day sales seems to be something of a trend for many, who enjoy all the buzz, hype, crowds and chaos (and a break from the turkey perhaps!)

Still, it’s a challenging time for smaller retailers, who are competing with multi-million pound TV ad campaigns, well-structured email campaigns, social media advertising and even postal campaigns – all created by the major players to ensure that they secure their share of wallet from consumers who’ve been saving their Christmas budgets up for a splurge when the discounts land in the January sales.

So… what can the independent retailer do to ensure they get their fair share of the frenzied spending?

Here are my top tips for the January sales …

  • Be prepared to match the timings of your big retailer neighbours – have stock that you are happy to put into a sale (even ahead of Christmas if your neighbours go down that route) that you can mark down to clear without making too much of a loss, getting the cash tied up in unproductive stock back into your till and available to spend on new merchandise which will turn a better margin.
  • Decide what kind of sale you want to run – look at the great examples from major chains, such as Next – do you want to create a level of excitement with your customers about the possibility to get product at 50-70% off, selling through very quickly and breaking into Spring season quickly? Or, do you prefer less discounts managed carefully over a longer period with a slower transition? There are lots of considerations, including affordability and impact on your customers’ perception of your brand – think carefully as to which approach suits your needs.
  • Do not let your sale fester – you will risk your regular loyal customers (who are willing to buy full price merchandise) from being diverted to sale items. This loses you margin opportunity. If you have lots of clearance stock then you have 2 choices:

1) Take it off sale, put it in storage, and if you can remerchandise it next Christmas and sell at full price then do so;

2)Take it out of the store and sell it through a clearance channel – something like an eBay shop for instance that you can set up specifically as your “outlet” store.

  • Take full advantage of the January sales to meet and engage with new customers… Even if people only initially enter the store to check out the bargains that perhaps are featured in your windows you can get them into conversation, showcase your entire range and ideally if you can capture their details for your marketing you can invite them back to the store for other events such as new season launch or any other promotions and campaigns you may be participating in. The key is to see each new customer, even sale shoppers, as having the potential to become a regular repeat visitor
  • Finally… it may be the sale but you still need to be true to your brand. Most customers hate having to fight through piles of discounted stock in a crowded and cluttered environment. Try and keep the atmosphere in your store to the same standard as it would be out of sale – people WILL linger longer and take more time to browse in a less “stressful” environment. No matter how much stock you feel you need to clear, don’t overwhelm the customer and don’t let the store end up looking like a jumble sale!

The January sales can be very challenging. If handled badly they can be damaging to your business. If handled well they are the ideal opportunity to tap into consumer demand for a bargain, clearing old stock, making way for new, meeting new customers and showcasing what you have to offer for the rest of the year.

How you decide to manage sales in your store will depend a great deal on what you offer, where you are and who your ideal customer is! I hope these few pointers will come in handy and I wish you well in your pre- and post- Christmas trading!


Image Credit


“Shoe Sales”: I See Modern Britain,