By Carime Lane
Our parents may have told us not to judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to preparing Christmas purchases for loved ones, appearance does matter. Whether dressed in ribbons, shiny wrap, or a decorative basket or bag, an attractively packaged gift leaves a powerful first impression.
“It makes any gift more ‘Wow,’” said Lise Schleicher, president of Basketworks, Inc., an independent Chicago-based gift basket shop.
Independent retailers can benefit from their customers’ desire to give their loved ones eye-catching gifts. Customer service focused shops can build goodwill and future loyalty by offering specialty services like gift wrapping and by providing other services not offered by big box stores, such as expert, attentive assistance with gift selection, personalization of gifts, and packing and shipping services.
The Impact of Great Customer Service
Sam Davidson, co-owner and CEO of Batch, a Nashville gift shop that specializes in curated gift sets, acknowledges that his store sells some of the same items as big box retailers, but customers continue to “shop small” not only because they have a greater selection of local products, but also due to the better service they provide.
When customers shop at Batch, it’s a personal experience: Staff ask whether customers are looking for gifts and walk them through the store, interacting with them and catering to their needs. In the process, the employees use their intimate knowledge of products and the artisans who made them to help customers make the perfect selection.
“When somebody drops off their barbecue sauce or the candle they pour, we get to know them. We get to hear their stories, so we can relay that to the customer,” says Davidson. “Then we’ll sell more and create that loyalty as well.”
Gift Wrap and Wrapping Service
Davidson said that offering free (except during the holiday season) gift wrapping service is yet another way they provide customers with superior customer service. Once customers learn of their gift wrapping service, it takes the pressure off them. They enjoy having a gift expertly wrapped for them, so they return for the next occasion they need a gift, he said.
Retailers who already offer a gift wrapping service, or offer gift presentation items for purchase — but think their gift wrap selection could use a boost — may want to try Nashville Wraps, a wholesale gift and gourmet packaging company. The company supplies a wide array of gift presentation items from ribbons to gift bags and boxes to gift cards and card holders. And for Christmas, they offer their exclusive Christmas collections, from their new “Christmas Snowflakes” to their popular “Woodland Deer” collections.
“Most of our exclusive collections are part of our Green Way brand line of eco-friendly packaging, including recycled bags, tissue paper, and gift wrap,” explained Joni Compton, Nashville Wrap’s advertising coordinator. “In addition, they’re made in the USA.”
Nashville Wrap’s website helps visitors match tissue and ribbon to shopping bags and gift wrap, and further presentation ideas can be explored on their blog, YouTube channel, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest pages.
“Our collections have coordinating products that all tie together, so gift wrapping is a cinch,” said Compton.
Gift Presentation Services
Beyond the Wrap
Helping customers by wrapping their gifts is just one of the services retailers can offer to set their store apart. Independent retailers can offer a number of shipping options, such as local shipping by courier, or national or worldwide shipping, and may be able to negotiate a preferred rate if shipping from their store reaches a significant volume.
Yet another perk for the independent retailer is the ease with which they can customize their products, whether it’s accommodating a customer’s request by ordering a clutch in a different color than what they currently have in store, switching the color of a ribbon, or swapping tea for coffee in a pre-packaged gift basket.
“We can also adjust many of our packages to reflect dietary needs such as gluten-free, kosher, nut-free, etc.,” said Schleicher.
An entire package can be curated with a specific recipient’s interests in mind. Recent examples from Schleicher’s store include a basket of Chicago Cubs items and a Get Well Soon package with “guy food” packed with savory foods suited to men, such as crackers, sausage, and pretzels. To add personal touches to gifts, Schleicher offers to handwrite customers’ cards or include their personal or business notecards in their gift package.
At Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Mich., customers can create their own ornament package. The store supplies the customer with a gift box, which they can then fill with ornaments, including personalized ones, to suit the recipient.
Personalization is an ideal way for independent retailers to distinguish themselves from big box stores: Personalized elements such as names of family members, holiday sentiments in different languages, or company names and logos can be imprinted, embroidered, or hand-drawn, either for a reasonable charge, or as a free add-on for large-volume customers. Wedding favors, ribbons, plaques, ornaments, stockings, and Santa hats can all be personalized, and retailers can create more value by offering hand personalization — for example, by hand painting an ornament. Potential customers, however, will want fast, accurate information about the cost and the amount of time personalization will take. Ensuring your staff is able to quickly provide correct information can help secure sales of personalized items, said Schleicher.
Upsell Gift Presentation Add-Ons
Busy consumers aren’t the only ones benefiting from gift presentation add-ons. For the savvy retailer, these items present a myriad of opportunities for upselling.
Given the frenzied nature of the Christmas season, setting a minimum purchase for your gift wrapping service is a simple way to upsell. For example, Batch sets a $40 minimum amount for a customer’s purchase to qualify for gift wrap. For larger company orders, Batch also has a set gift wrap fee.
Pre-packaging and pre-wrapping items allows frazzled customers to purchase thoughtful gifts and reduces the amount of time staff have to spend wrapping when lines are long. Consider pairing a blanket with hot cocoa and wrapping them in ribbon or adding extra greenery — like a poinsettia at Christmastime — to create a an all-in-one gift basket that sells for a higher price point than the same items sold individually.
Alternatively, create a visually appealing display that includes pre-made gift boxes at a range of price points consisting of items you would normally sell singly, so shoppers can grab and go.
“By creating things like that, you may create demand for them,” said Schleicher.
Cash in on Your Cash Register
Look to your checkout area for further upselling opportunities. Strategically place impulse items — like gifts wrap or special occasion products with personalized lettering — on the wall behind or beside the cash register as part of an eye-catching display. For imprinted items, Schleicher suggests displaying items with a phrase that’s clearly designed to catch someone’s attention like: “It’s the big 6-0, Sue.”
Cards can also be placed at the checkout for an upsell, but make it easier for the customer to choose by limiting the card selection. Then, as Davidson suggested, add a gentle soft-sell such as, “You mentioned it’s for your mom’s birthday. Have you seen our birthday cards?” Alternatively, Schleicher recommended a helpful prompt such as, “Would you like to pick out one of these cards? It’s only 2 or 3 dollars.”
If you’re looking to make some pricier upsells at your counter, use an association with a charity to upsell luxury add-ons. In a 2015 Journal of Retailing study, researchers found that advertising luxury goods in association with a charity boosted sales at the point-of-sale. In one part of the study, given the choice between M&M’s and the luxury chocolate brand Godiva, only 22 of the 96 study participants chose Godiva. However, when the Godiva chocolates were advertised in association with the World Wildlife Fund, the number increased to 38, nearly doubling sales.
Leverage Small Store Strengths for Big Profits
Big box stores may have an advantage in buying products in huge quantities to keep prices down. But the very size of these stores means they lack the warm, attentive, personalized customer service that an independent store can deliver. Customers are growing tired of the impersonal, one-size-fits-all chain store experience. By offering these custom gift services, small store owners can attract shoppers and build long-term customer loyalty for a healthy bottom line.