With cold and stormy weather, and thoughts of endless queues, terse tempers and the constant sound of Jingle Bells in high street shops, it’s not surprising that many of us chose to embrace e-commerce over the Christmas season. Indeed, online retailers are capitalising on the opportunity with discounts, free delivery and the opportunity to browse, compare and review gifts online. It’s a tempting proposition but what has this shift in Christmas shopping behaviour meant to the industry? 

The importance of the Christmas ‘peak’ retail season can’t be stressed enough, with retailers making more than half of their annual sales and profits in the three months leading up to Christmas. Last year, online shopping rose by 11% over the Christmas period, accounting for almost a quarter of Christmas spending (Centre for Retail Research).  There’s no doubt that e-commerce is posing a serious and real threat to traditional retailers especially during their most critical time. 

Traditional retailers are fighting back, with many bringing the Christmas season forward; Selfridges opened their Christmas shop on the 1st of August this year. Others look to discount merchandise in a bid to drive customers in to their stores, in 2015 this meant huge discounts and promotions from mid-December to entice shoppers to buy. 

However, the real difference that separates online shopping to purchasing goods in store is often the shopping experience created by sales employees. Being able to discuss purchasing decisions, take advice and have a positive customer experience can be the difference that drives customers into shops. Once you’ve delivered great customer service, employees who can upsell and cross sell are those that are going to make the difference for retailers wanting to cash in on Christmas. 

With big budgets on marketing and promotions, sourcing and recruiting the right staff to fill the peak season can often feature lower on the list. It’s easy to think that Christmas recruitment is a numbers game and all you need to do is hire temporary staff. However, getting recruitment wrong can be the downfall of major retailers over the holiday period. 

First, you’ll need employees that you can rely on, are they going to turn up on Christmas eve and spend 8 or 9 hours serving your customers? If they do, are they going to do it in a customer friendly manner to make your customers feel welcome? Finally, will they be able to actually sell to your customers? Research has demonstrated that 40% of the working population are likely to be strong at delivering good customer service, and 37% are likely to be strong at selling. However, just 12% of the working population have the killer combination of being good at both sales and customer service. So with just 1 in 10 applicants having the killer combination for Christmas retail, finding those individuals isn’t going to be easy, but it could be the difference between a merry Christmas and a Christmas nightmare.