The Holiday Season Is Your Big Game—Are You Prepared to Win?

Thoughtware Article Published: Sep 13, 2019
Fertilizer driving around the land

Many people would say fall is their favorite time of year. This is especially true for football fans as the regular season kicks off and teams begin competing after months of training, talent development and preparation for the entire season—and the “big game.” Much like football teams, food retailers across the country should be finalizing their “game plan” right now by readying their stores, training staff, preparing for seasonal product changes and fine-tuning promotional, merchandising and customer engagement strategies to increase sales.

While the holiday selling season is one of the most hectic times for food retailers, it also can be extremely financially rewarding. This season presents a great time to showcase stores and products and potentially gain new customers while also expanding sales to repeat customers. Yes, the holidays are stressful. However, for some food retailers the holiday sales season can determine the overall success of the entire year.

Like the game of football, a winning combination in retail requires a strong offense and a strong defense, coupled with a great playbook and coach. To help your team succeed, BKD’s retail coaches have compiled the following tips to help your stores develop a game plan to become champions of the holiday season:


Offensive game plans in retail focus on distinguishing factors and the “specialties” your stores provide. It’s the way retailers engage, market and attract customers and how you “de-commodify” your stores. The investments made here can help offset the high cost of customer acquisition.

Sampling – While sampling is a great way to showcase new or signature products, we continue to see retailers miss the mark in this area. A great sampling event requires an aggressive approach where the customer is engaged as soon as they approach the sampling area. This often involves telling a great story about the product. In addition to the featured product, we also suggest adding complementary products, such as signature products, a private-label branded item or a high-margin product. In short, don’t limit your sampling to one product. Get creative, build the basket size and show the customer all of the great products you offer. Or, better yet, take a strong approach to customer engagement by presenting them with the opportunity to try signature products out for themselves.

Displays & Signage – It’s true that most customers “buy with their eyes.” Therefore, using light, color, movement and signage in displays is crucial. Displays that incorporate these elements in addition to their relevant merchandise are more likely to engage the customer, capture their senses and help increase the chance of sales. Adding stations for customers to watch “fresh-made” products being prepared on the sales floor is always a great way to capture the customer’s attention and entice sales. These “theater” attractions within the store are common with fruits and vegetables, dessert stations and fresh-made guacamole and salsa stations. Whether it’s a new item or a staple product in your store, signage is key. Replace your old machine-printed signs with exciting, handmade signage that tells a story, educates the customer and highlights the features of the product. If you have any new items in stores, incorporate “new item” signage as a tactic to increase the overall success rate of the product.

Focus on Fresh Departments – While every department contributes to the overall success of the store throughout the holiday season, there are several departments that play a key role. The deli department should be set up for success by aggressively promoting holiday trays, all-inclusive holiday meals and convenient options for other holiday-themed events. In addition, as weary shoppers are consumed with holiday shopping, as well as their daily responsibilities at work and home, the last thing they generally want to do is cook. This presents a prime opportunity for the deli department to position itself as a resource for quick meal solutions such as prepared foods, grab-and-go items or easy meal kits. Customers want grocers to be their kitchen during these stressful times, rather than their traditional cupboard or pantry.

The bakery department should also be at the top of its game by providing high-quality desserts, breads and other holiday-themed items. Produce and meat departments should be prepared for an increase in store traffic as customers plan and prepare meals with friends and family. In each department, customers are generally willing to spend a little more during the holiday season. In response, retailers may want to consider adjusting their product assortment to include an incremental amount of higher-end items.


Defensive fundamentals of operations seek to understand the customer and consist of activities that help develop and retain loyal, repeat shoppers. A strong defense can be considered the baseline of store operations and focus on training, customer service, employee engagement, asset protection and other initiatives to help promote positive consumer appeal.

Training – The holidays can represent a period of time where additional staffing may be required. This requires solid onboarding procedures for new associates. Working with customers with heightened stress levels this time of year is common, though never easy. Retailers need to have a strong training program in place, emphasizing great customer service with a focus on empathy, respect and knowledge of the store. Educating associates on how to respectfully respond to customers helps solve issues and results in a positive customer experience. Store associates also should be trained on the answers to common questions within their department and the overall store. Consider making the requisite investments in training for both new and existing associates (as a mandatory refresher), and take the time to adequately prepare them for the various interactions they may encounter.

Customer Service – While exceptional customer service should be present throughout the year, it’s even more critical throughout the holiday season as store traffic is strong and customers are seeking solutions from their grocers. You will likely see an increase in the number of customers requiring guidance on where to find items within the store, how to prepare a certain product or what to pair with it. Now more than ever they’re seeking ideas, suggestions and best practices they can use during the preparation or cooking process. Food retailers and their associates should be prepared for this influx of customers who crave this information and be ready to offer the proper guidance to help provide a solution to their needs. With the increased store traffic, it’s also critical for stores to be well-managed. This includes fast checkouts, adequate staffing in each department, abundant stocking, timely order pickup and delivery and a clean store both inside and out. It should be stressed that store managers should pay extra attention to the details during this time of year, as they play a huge role in retaining loyal shoppers while also winning new customers.

Shrink – As the volume and velocity of products moving in and out of the store increase throughout the holiday season, it’s easy for standard operating policies and procedures to take a back seat. A faster-paced environment has the potential to lead to situations where limited resources are placed on receiving and handling duties. This can lead to theft, breakage, and in some cases, accidents. New store associates also may contribute to shrink through ringing errors, failure to follow stocking guidelines or shortcuts made during routine cleaning processes that can lead to spoilage or contamination. Retailers should remain vigilant and ensure proper receiving and handling procedures and vendor management policies are continued throughout the holiday season. In addition, proper training and oversight should be provided to all new and existing associates related to proper storage, handling and cleaning procedures. Store managers also should be instructed to reinforce these rules and lead by example.

Loss Prevention – The holidays result in more sales for retailers, but that may come with an increase in theft and shoplifting. Cashiers should be trained on how to identify fraudulent coupons, which are generally categorized with high dollar amounts or free products. Training also should include how to identify fake currency, fraudulent gift cards and debit/credit card usage. Distraction on the sales floor is a very common tactic used by thieves. An increased floor presence and excellent customer service can prevent or limit theft, as the last thing a thief wants is to be noticed and engaged. We also advise our clients to identify the products most likely to be stolen and strengthen CCTV and other video surveillance technologies or consider repositioning these products and floor displays to a more conspicuous location. Various factors can contribute to an increase in theft during the holidays, so we strongly encourage retailers to invest in loss prevention training for store associates and implement the proper measures to protect themselves.


Much like football, building a championship retail program takes a lot of training, consistent coaching, a clear vision and a desire to win. From there, food retailers can employ strong offensive strategies to increase sales throughout the holidays by engaging customers, stimulating their senses and serving as a resource for fresh, high-quality and one-of-a-kind products. On the other side of the ball, retailers should be dialing up defensive strategies to maintain customer loyalty and sustain profits by providing exceptional customer service, investing in employees, providing rewarding career paths and leveraging solid loss-prevention trainings to protect assets.

The holiday season is about to kick off—are you prepared to win?

Reach out to your BKD trusted advisor or complete the Contact Us form below if you have questions.

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