How to deal with seasonal spikes in customer demand for Christmas

Christmas is fast approaching but how can you attract and manage customer demand over the festive period? Four seasonal businesses share their advice

Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day and Halloween – they all have one big thing in common; the fact that seasonal businesses rely on them as a means to boost annual revenues.

Large brands have always used the festive season to plump up sales; attracting Christmas custom through a raft of expensive advertising campaigns and initiatives.

You only have to look at John Lewis’ recent ‘Man in the Moon’ advert, already viewed over 11 million times since airing last week, or Currys PC World’s new ‘Spare the Act’ adverts starring Jeff Goldblum, to see how brands capitalise on Christmas spirit to engage with consumers.

Yet small businesses can still readily attract customers over the Christmas period without big budgets and viral videos.

With just over six weeks left until December 25, we spoke to four seasonal businesses – a florist in Herefordshire, a chocolatier in Leicester, a Shropshire-based jewellery design business and a London-based online dating agency – to find out how they attract customers over Christmas and how they cope with massive surges in demand at busy times of the year…

How do you prepare for Christmas? How much extra stock do you order and do wholesalers push prices up?

Heather Gorringe, founder of Wiggly Wigglers:

“We look at what flowers are likely to be available and what trends are in for this year in terms of colour and the type of arrangement. We make our designs, price them and then we estimate the sales of that product and order the flowers accordingly. The prices that we pay for the flowers do increase because of extra demand – we absorb this wherever possible because of the extra orders that we receive, but may put prices up if we’re unable to do so.”

Debbie Noon,  founder of The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We produce chocolate until our shelves are full, then as we sell we can see what the most popular items are and quickly make more. We are able to respond to demand quite quickly and customers can pre-order with a small deposit which also helps. Our suppliers don’t push prices up and neither do we.”

Anne Reeves, founder of Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“I have to order castings for a lot of the designs. It’s incredibly difficult to know what’s going to sell. I have to make sure there’s nothing I can’t fulfil as I’ll get a lot of orders. This year has doubled sales. The business itself is growing at 60% a year. We have 100 products over 25 collections. I have my best sellers, so make sure I’ve got plenty of those. Our Bound Sphere product – silver wire wound into a ball for pendants and earrings – is our most popular. Anything with a heart on too!”

Do you hire extra staff to help get you through the Christmas period and maintain customer service levels?

Debbie Noon, The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We have a back-up plan in terms of people we can bring in family members at short notice. As long as we are honest with our customers (in the event of a mix-up etc) then they know they can trust us to call them if we do have a problem.

“It does become harder to spend as long with each customer when serving instinct is to serve and go onto the next one – but in quiet periods we will chat more with the customer. We find that most people expect this and wouldn’t want to be the ones waiting in the queue if we were chatting.”

Matt Janes, DoingSomething:

“We don’t hire any staff to help with the peak of activity, and because the site functions really well there is no need to improve customer service levels.”

Heather Gorringe, Wiggly Wigglers:

“Not usually – we continue to use our experienced team which enables us to maintain good quality control and customer service levels. Our staff work extra hours and have time off in lieu to compensate.”

Anne Reeves, Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“It’s similar for us, we just work a bit harder. I’m thinking about taking on a new recruit. At the moment it’s just me and my assistant Kate. Because of what I do there’s an awful lot of silver lying around, so I wouldn’t take on temporary staff.”

How do you attract customers in the run-up to Christmas? Do you run special offers, promotions, or gifts?

Matt Janes, founder of DoingSomething:

“We do a mixture of promotions, some for existing members, such as voucher codes, and some for new members. For new members we offer sign-up deals such as buy three months for one month’s fee.”

Anne Reeves, Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“The websites – notonthehighstreet.com, Amazon, DorothyandTheodore.com – I sell on tend to do their own promotions. That has worked as it’s really peaked. I’m more likely to do promotions at quiet times of the year.”

Debbie Noon, The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We change our products to reflect Christmas s well as keep the standard products. We run special offers to encourage sales.”

How do you make your business stand out against everyone else competing for attention?

Heather Gorringe, Wiggly Wigglers:

“Our flowers are all British and so quite unusual. We also campaign for British Flowers – less flower miles and great for birds, bugs, bees and butterflies too. We continue to push this message which helps us to stand out.”

Debbie Noon, The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We use social networking to promote our items and try and inject a bit of fun.”

Anne Reeves, Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“We’ve employed a PR company to promote the business. We try to push the fact that it’s a UK business. A lot of items are made bespoke and to order. We do a lot of personalised jewellery. I’ve been doing quite a lot of advertising in national magazines for my horse, cat, and dog ranges, which are very popular.”

What mistakes have you made in the past – under-ordering, over-ordering, not being prepared for a traffic spike?

Anne Reeves, Anne Reeves Jewellery:

“There were designs I thought would be popular and I bought in lots of castings only to find they weren’t as popular as I’d hoped. Sales forecasting is a bit of a guessing game and you’ll make mistakes both ways, so I just look at growth levels and trajectories of the previous year and estimate. You just have to test the market.”

Debbie Noon, The Fruity Chocolatier:

“We didn’t increase our stock levels fast enough to cope with Christmas as we had been so busy making Halloween and Diwali products – we are lucky we can melt chocolate down and remould it so overproducing products isn’t a problem.”

Heather Gorringe, Wiggly Wigglers:

“We have over-ordered by mistake which was painful, but we did offers after the busy period. It’s quite difficult to forecast the orders so we also stopped taking orders so early on some occasions as British Flowers are more difficult to source. Our Growth Coach at GrowthAccelerator has helped us work on how we overcome some of these hurdles and how we can take advantage of the spike in sales.”

Matt Janes, DoingSomething:

“One thing I’ve learnt is that you can never predict how quickly these events will sell out. We’ve done all sorts of crazy stuff – from Ping Pong on top of The O2 to an Igloo at the top of the Shard. The Igloo one sold out immediately – our quickest ever. But you never know until they go on sale….”

For more information on marketing your business over the Christmas period, take a look at our dedicated marketing advice channel.

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