Ten Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Retail Strategies

Every retailer knows that if there’s a holiday your customers wait until the very last minute to buy gifts for, it’s Valentine’s Day. At 6 p.m. the parking lot of every mall, drug store, and even grocery store is packed like it’s Christmas Eve all over again. What’s the reason for this mad dash? Usually, it’s because the (mostly male) customers have waited until the eleventh hour to buy that special Valentine’s Day gift. Believe me, I’ve been there myself, desperately trying to find a card that says just the right thing even though there are only three cards left in the ravaged display rack. Where was the rest of the selection? Sold out!

We all know some guy who is a planner, who actually thinks about gifts beforehand and shops early. But, let’s face it, those guys are few and far between. Bad news for the sweetheart waiting at home for a polyester teddy bear from the drug store, but good news for savvy retailers who know to maximize retail sales during this last-minute rush. Here are 10 great ways to capitalize on the cupid-fueled chaos:

1. Make sure your store is relevant to Valentine’s Day. Chances are that if you’re selling alpaca sweaters, there’s not going to be a big run on them for the holiday. Lingerie, on the other hand, would probably be desirable. Don’t try to make a display for Valentine’s Day if people aren’t going to buy gifts at your store. You’re just wasting time and working capital by doing so.

2. Create a prominent feature area. Pull all of your Valentine’s Day merchandise forward into the store’s prime feature area so customers don’t have to wade through the store to find the perfect gift. Everything should be front and center for them to find quickly (and buy).

3. Restock the floor often. Nothing’s worse than a sad, picked-over selection of gifts. If you have more stock in the back, make sure you’re putting it out on the sales floor continuously. You can’t sell what’s hidden away in your stockroom.

4. Sell outside your front door. Last year, one Los Angeles-based Whole Foods store placed racks of cards, bouquets of flowers, and boxes of chocolates outside the store, complete with a cashier to ring everything up, so that customers didn’t have to fight their way into the store. Talk about taking it to the customer.

5. Create your own gift baskets. Guys rushing in for a last-minute gift want everything done for them. Pull several related products together, arrange them in a basket lined with “grass,” wrap the basket in cellophane, top it with a pretty pink bow and presto! Instant gift basket. (Just be sure to include the price of the basket, grass, cellophane, and bow in the final price so that you’re not losing money on the deal.) This is the perfect grab-and-go gift.

6. Offer to gift wrap purchases. See tip #5 — guys want it done for them. And now you’ve just made their life so much easier by offering to wrap the gift for them. They don’t have to think about wrapping paper, scissors, tape, or bows. Trust me, they’re going to remember you the next time they need a gift.

7. Help them be creative gift givers. What are your top three gift ideas? Many customers are going to come in looking for something “unique” but with no clear idea on what that would be. Give them a few creative ideas. Nothing says pampering like a pedicure, so how about a home spa kit with soaps, lotions, and a candle? Or suggest a bottle of wine with a selection of cheeses, olives, crackers, and charcuterie for a romantic indoor picnic. Sell more by thinking up creative gifts around your product offerings.

8. Don’t forget the gift cards. Desperation is desperation, and some guys are going to just go for the gift card, thoughtless as some might find it. Don’t ignore them. Gift cards are a multi-billion dollar business, so get your share.

9. Get the word out. All of this in-store preparation and planning doesn’t do you any good if nobody knows about it. Send out an e-mail blast to your customer mailing list to remind everyone you’re a great place for last-minute Valentine’s Day gifts. If you’re extending your hours, let them know about it.

10. Use social media to announce special deals. Don’t forget to snare your wired customers. Use social networking sites to announce last-minute Valentine’s Day gift deals. Offer a discount, free gift wrapping, a gift with purchase, or whatever makes sense for your business. Then use your Facebook Fan Page and Twitter account to remind all your followers why you’re THE place to go for great Valentine’s Day gifts.

Guys: if you’re reading this, Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, so you have all weekend to figure this out. Get going and get going early or you know where you’ll wind up — with the rest of the V-Day losers outside the grocery store at 6 p.m., wading through picked-over cards, wilted flowers, and a lame heart-shaped box of cheap chocolates.

Retailers: if you’re reading this, be ready for the onslaught Sunday afternoon as those last-minute Larrys flood your store desperately searching for the perfect gift. If you’ve followed these 10 tips to maximize your sales, you’ll make this Valentine’s Day a holiday that any retailer would fall in love with.