The retailer’s guide to planning a profitable event
To succeed in retail today, you need to create a positive experience. With so much ecommerce competition, it takes more than great merchandise to bring shoppers into your physical store. But that right there is an advantage brick-and-mortar stores will always have over ecommerce: There is a physical space. And how you embrace that can make a huge difference in your sales, customer loyalty and the future of your brick-and-mortar.
Join us as we dive into how to host a profitable retail store event that will help you compete. We’ll cover:
Why retail store events are important
Events motivate customers to shop in-store
With convenience so high on consumers’ preference lists these days, why would they choose to travel to a store, find what they’re looking for, stand in a checkout line and so on, when they can achieve the same result with a few taps on their phone?
They may crave instant gratification, sure, but a lot of people would agree that shopping from their couch sounds a whole lot better most days (especially when quick and free shipping is involved).
A well-planned in-store event gives customers a worthwhile reason to rev up their car or pull out their subway pass. When we share some in-store event ideas a little later, you’ll see why.
Store events are a gold mine for valuable data
The more in-store sales you generate, the more customer data analytics you’ll collect — giving you insight to make better decisions for your small business (and improve your event strategy going forward). Here are things to look for as you analyze your point of sale data post-event:
Is something selling better (or worse) in store versus online?
What items are people purchasing together when they shop in person?
Are people buying more in store than online, or less?
How many new customers did the event bring in?
How many loyalty program signups did you secure?
Acquire new customers through public events
Most people are fine shopping alone. Not as many are fine with going to a party alone. Shoppers are likely to show up to events in pairs, if not groups, and we’d garner that at least some percentage of those dates are going to be first-time customers. The classic tale of peer pressure – ahem – encouragement (“That looks great on you!”) doesn’t hurt sales either.
Enhance existing customer relationships
There’s just something about a party atmosphere that gets shoppers to open up far more than they would on any old Tuesday afternoon as they browse through their lunch break. It’s also a perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to frequent customers who may have only ever shopped with you online. Mingle with your guests, make them feel welcome, help them find items they love and learn from them.
Read more: 7 ways to collect customer data and why
Why some retail events fail
Not all retail events are slam dunks. It’s unfortunately easier than you might think to lose money on them. Even just breaking even is a letdown when you’ve put so much time and heart into planning one.
Event flops may be due to a lack of attendees, but they just as likely come from attendees who browse but don’t buy. Thanks to Instagram and FOMO culture, balloon arches, flower installations, wall murals and other elaborate photo backdrops have traditionally done a great job of generating store traffic. But now that they’ve eaten your cheese cubes and used your photobooth, how do you encourage them to walk out of your store carrying more than free swag and a cupcake for the road?
Of course, revenue might not be your objective; maybe foot traffic and awareness that will turn into long-term customers is your goal. But for the purpose of this article, we want to dive into how to create a highly profitable in-store event.
How to plan a profitable retail store event
Level up your retail marketing strategy
Don’t skimp on retail event marketing initiatives. It’s tempting to throw together a bunch of eye-catching – but vague and generic – email blasts and social media posts. Instead, you need to give people a reason to come in with the purpose of purchasing, not just to browse and enjoy the free beverages. Advertise what they’re going to get out of the event:
Highlight new products (and don’t make them available to purchase online until after the event)
Promote any gift-with-purchase promos
Include a coupon only redeemable during the event
Invite followers to enter a contest on your Instagram account — let them know you’ll announce the winner at the event (and they have to be present to win)
Where to promote your in-store event:
Social media platforms
Local chamber of commerce and shopping center calendars
Event websites (like Eventbrite or Yelp)
Reach out to PR professionals, local publications and radio stations to secure media coverage as well!
Collaborate with a local radio station and invite a DJ to make a guest appearance and spin at the event
Work with social media influencers
Hire influencers that align well with your brand to promote the event on their social media platforms, and also attend. They’re called influencers for a reason: Followers want to buy what they’re wearing or promoting. Some will do a marketing collaboration for product alone; others will charge a fee. Take this into account as you’re budgeting.
Staff your event strategically
If customers can’t find sales associates to unlock fitting rooms or answer product questions – or if they’re more interested in enjoying the party than waiting in the long checkout line – you’ll miss out on sales. That means it might be recruiting time: Pump up your headcount, and put your strongest sellers on the floor. If you can, avoid scheduling brand new sales associates who haven’t completed their training. Learn more about using data for strategic staffing.
Consider creating a contest for employees. Who doesn’t love a little friendly competition? Whoever sells the most of a key item, has the highest single sale of the day or the highest units per transaction (UPT) gets a gift card.
Stock to meet customer demand
In the same vein, if you don’t have enough merchandise – or the merchandise your customer is looking for – they’re more likely to walk out empty-handed. Use your point of sale reporting tools to look at the volume and assortment of what you have sold at previous events. If this is your first, look at last year’s sales on that date and inflate it to account for your predicted traffic. Worried you don’t have enough? If you have another location(s), consider transferring from there before placing a vendor reorder.
Use your point of sale reporting tools to look at the volume and assortment of what you have sold at previous events.
A themed event can draw in more shoppers than a traditional sales event. We don’t just mean luau or roaring 20s: Give your gathering a theme tied to shopping need, like wedding season. Think about it: Whether you’re the groom or a guest, an overwhelming (and slightly alarming) amount of spending goes into weddings. If your product line caters to that, capitalize on your customers’ needs. Throw a white dress gathering for brides, where they can shop for their shower, bachelorette or other related occasions.
You can also take advantage of pop culture and current happenings — things like sporting events, award show season, movie premieres and international events (think royal weddings and Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee). Build relevant displays and showcase items people need to celebrate these occasions (like spring dresses and hats for the Kentucky Derby), or host your own gathering during the event in question (a watch party for your customers’ favorite TV show finale).
Consider “holidays” specific to your brand, too. Build-A-Bear Workshop honors National Teddy Day every year, while MAC Cosmetics goes all out on National Lipstick Day.
Can’t find a good fit? Make up your own! Retailers J.McLaughlin and J.Crew coined “National Wicker Day” and “National Stripes Day,” respectively, as marketing campaigns to highlight their signature products.
Co-host with a local business or sponsor
This is almost always a beneficial co-marketing effort (you get to leverage each other's customer base and marketing lists), but it also helps offset costs. Remember: profits = how much you take home at the end of the day. If you’re putting tons of dollars into decor, food, beverages, advertising and giveaway items, that’s less money you’ll make off of the event. When you split the cost of these through a partnership – or even get donations from a co-sponsor – that’s way more profits in your pocket.
Consider inviting a local winery or brewery to bartend and provide the libations, in exchange for a space for them to sell full bottles (just be sure to secure the correct permits for something like this!).
Offer a gift with purchase incentive
Choose something low-cost but incentivizing, and don’t offer it for sale on its own — customers must make a purchase of a certain amount to receive it. Promote the giveaway with signage around the store and at the cashwrap, and make the fine print clear: while supplies last, limit one per customer, cannot be applied to previous purchases and any exclusions (like the purchase of a gift card is not eligible).
A note on timing
Look at your town’s calendar and consider any happenings that will drive people to your store’s area, or – not what we want to see – keep them away. Think about summer, for example: Generally, cities tend to empty out a bit, with many of your regular customers soaking up the sun elsewhere (especially on weekends). But if you’re located in a beach or other breed of tourist town, summer is likely your peak season, so this is definitely the time to capitalize on that population surge.
Look at your town’s calendar and consider any happenings that will drive people to your store’s area — or keep them away.
To take it a step further, consider the event’s start and end time. During the heat of the day, people will likely be at the beach. Somewhere in the late-afternoon region – when everyone is back from their midday activities but has a break before dinner – is usually prime. Keeping an eye on your hourly traffic and retail sales data can help confirm this, though.
Online retail businesses can’t compete with great in-store experiences. Your OWN ecommerce site can’t even compete with them. Whether you’re hosting a grand opening, product launch party, VIP night or just a fun in-store soirée to give you a sales boost, events are a profitable and enjoyable way to bring in both loyal customers and potential customers, enhance the customer experience and give shoppers a night of fun — off of their couches and away from their phones.
Types of events by season
Seasonal event ideas for retailers
Download and print for future reference!
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