8 Ways to Prepare Our Stores for Christmas (my ABASTO MAGAZINE article)


The holiday season is now upon us: Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Christmas have officially arrived in our stores at full force. We need to prepare properly for these events, as we play a very important part of the annual turnover sales. Depending upon what kind of business we run — supermarkets, department stores or toy stores — we can assume that we are responsible for anywhere between 20% and 75% of the annual turnover.

If we think our customers will suddenly wake up one of these days and visit the first business they see, we are very much mistaken. The same goes for those who leave their holiday season’s campaign preparations until the last moment.

1. The Marketing Message

Penske Trucks

First, we must be clear in our marketing message. Our message must be fully synchronized with all our communication channels: social networks, website or store billboards. In this way, we have a clear business agenda and our messages are consistent.

2. Christmas Decorations and Showcases

One of the most important aspects of the business strategy for the Christmas season is the décor. The store ambiance must draw attention to our customers and fill them with a sense of excitement. The impact of the décor should gradually increase as we get closer to key holiday dates. Be sure to emphasize strategic elements such as lighting. Also, keep in mind that quantity is not quality, so only use decorative elements as needed. Of course, they must be of high quality, delivering a direct message to our customers.

3. Offers and Promotions

During the Christmas season, sales are entirely different from the rest of the year. For example, even our products and quantities are different because they are intended as gifts for others. Here are some guidelines to follow during the holiday season: promote low prices; create zones that are designated by price; always suggest the most “neutral” gift choice because it is difficult to know if “extreme” gifts will sell; and lastly, invest in quality paper and gift wraps.

4. Beyond the Price Tag: Influential Selling Factors

The factors that influence our customers to purchase products at one store instead of another, regardless of price, are: the customer’s shopping experience, store location and accessibility, customer service, post-sales services and the payment options.

5. Our Youngest Audience

Our children enjoy various holidays during this time of the year. They usually accompany their parents or relatives to make purchases. However, not all stores are designed with children in mind. By implementing just a few easy steps, we can improve the shopping experience for children: avoid placing products within the reach of children that may cause danger; use a more informal language for our “little customers” without talking down to them; keep customer bathrooms spotless; and take care when offering taste samples or candy to children – be sure to get permission from their parents first.

6. Background Music

The quality of our stores’ background music is another determining factor this Christmas season. The controlled use of background music will improve the Christmas environment and increase our sales. For example, many stores are limited to repeating the same music constantly. This practice can be uncomfortable for our customers. We can actually get creative, combining Christmas music with the musical styles we use in our businesses during the rest of the year. Remember, always create a style that evokes a feeling of peace, tranquility and rest.

7. Sensory Marketing: Utilizing Holiday Aromas

One of the greatest oversights in our stores which continues to be very important is olfactory marketing. We can actually influence our customers’ buying decisions through the aromas they pick up in the store environment.

8. The Technological Advantage

Finally, social networks are now an essential part of our businesses. They provide us with the advantage of interacting with our customers and finding out their demands and concerns first-hand. This Christmas season, social media will be fundamental so that our customers consult the feedback and shopping experience of other customers in the stores we manage.

Walmart, Target report strong online Thanksgiving sales.


Big box retailers Walmart and Target reported strong online sales from Thanksgiving and early Black Friday. Target said by 9 a.m. Friday “online sales had already exceeded total sales from the same day last year.”

Walmart said on Friday that its online Thanksgiving sales were record breaking, and second only to its Cyber Monday sales in 2013.

“Throughout the day, we welcomed more than 22 million customers to our stores — that’s more than the number of people who visit Disneyland in an entire year — and our associates served them with pride. During our big events, our cashiers had nearly every register open. And once again, we delivered safer, exciting events for our customers,” said Laura Phillips, Walmart SVP of merchandising, in a statement.

The National Retail Federation said that overall shopper traffic was down 5.2% from last year from Thanksgiving through the weekend.

Cyber Monday sales expected to dip

NRF said that 126.9 million consumers plan to shop on Cyber Monday, down from 131.5 million last year, according to a survey conducted this weekend by Prosper Insights & Analytics.

With good deals extending past Black Friday and Cyber Monday, shoppers may not have urgency to buy right away. Target, for instance, is continuing its deep holiday discounts for a week and waiving shipping fees through Dec. 20.

“For today’s shopper, every day is ‘Cyber Monday,’ and consumers want and expect great deals, especially online, throughout the entire holiday season — and they know retailers will deliver,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay, in a statement.

“Retailers will still offer unique deals exclusive to Cyber Monday, but consumers also know shopping on Cyber Monday won’t be their last chance to find low prices and exclusive promotions.”

According to the Shop.org eHoliday survey, 97.6% of online retailers are offering special Cyber Monday promotions. More than 19% of shoppers will use their mobile devices to shop Cyber Monday, and almost 85% will use their desktop computers.

The Wall Street Journal reported that brick-and-mortar stores have been cutting prices to compete with online retailers like Amazon.

In deal with Alibaba, Costco opens online store for China.


Costco Wholesale has struck a deal with a unit of Internet retail giant Alibaba Group to open an online store serving customers in mainland China, its first, long-awaited entry into that burgeoning market.

Costco Wholesale has struck a deal with a unit of Internet retail giant Alibaba Group to open an online store serving customers in mainland China, its first, long-awaited dip into that burgeoning market.

The Issaquah-based warehouse-club behemoth will market its private label Kirkland Signature products and other items through Tmall Global, an Alibaba Group platform that allows foreign retailers to sell items to customers in China without setting up a brick-and-mortar presence there.

The unorthodox arrangement underscores two ongoing trends at Costco: its slow but sure embrace of international operations, which now account for about a third of its business, and its tinkering with the promise of online growth.

At the company’s conference calls, analysts often ask when Costco, which has 10 warehouses in Taiwan, will open in mainland China. Executives respond they are focusing on first figuring out markets such as Spain and on waiting for the right opportunity.

The partnership with Tmall, which Alibaba says serves to quench Chinese shoppers’ thirst for foreign brands, could be a good beach head.

But it’s quite different from its standard business model: An Alibaba spokeswoman said shoppers using the service won’t need a Costco membership. Costco relies on member fees for a sizable portion of its profits.

Costco’s head of international operations, Jim Murphy, said in a statement that “Costco sees tremendous growth opportunities in China, especially in light of Chinese consumers’ increasing appetite for imported products.”

He added that Alibaba’s expertise in big data will help Costco find the best products for its customers there.

There’s plenty of opportunity to be had. As sales of consumer goods doubled between 2008 and 2012, China became the world’s second-largest retail market after the U.S. It is expected to surpass America before the end of the decade, according to a report by the Fung Business Intelligence Centre, a research unit of a large Hong Kong logistics and retail conglomerate.

Internet shopping has taken off as well.

China’s Internet retail market surpassed the size of the one in the U.S. in 2013 to become the world’s largest, with $295 billion in sales versus $270 billion in America, according to McKinsey. Its growth potential is seen as huge, as only 46 percent of China’s population is online, versus 87 percent of U.S. residents, the report says.

Last month Alibaba launched the largest initial public offering in U.S. history. Analysts with Bernstein Research say Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall home pages offers a much broader shopping selection than those of Amazon or eBay, including services such as insurance, health and prepaid cellphone minutes.

Analysts weigh in on Whole Foods’ new pricing program.

Whole Foods Logo

Whole Foods Market has lowered pricing in the perishable sections of its five Austin, Texas, stores as part of an effort to improve its value image, industry observers told SN — though they said it could take up to two years to change consumer perceptions and impact sales if and when the program is rolled out chainwide.

According to Kate Wendt, senior analyst with Wells Fargo Securities, San Francisco, “Price is still a significant barrier in the way people look at Whole Foods, and it will take awhile to change the ‘Whole Paycheck’ perception the company has. But lowering prices in perishables — the category where people shop most frequently at Whole Foods — could help accelerate a change in that perception.”

Jim Hertel, managing partner at Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill., said changing consumer perceptions about Whole Foods could take awhile. “Depending on the level of the pricing changes in terms of depth and breadth, it will take at least six months before it starts to have any impact and 18 months to 24 months before it has much impact on total results overall,” he said. “For investors, there are likely to be some challenges from a profitability standpoint until that happens.”

The price-reduction program “will take at least six months before it starts to have any impact,” says Jim Hertel of consulting firm Willard Bishop.

The price-reduction program “will take at least six months before it starts to have any impact,” says Jim Hertel of consulting firm Willard Bishop.

Published reports said Whole Foods is lowering prices on 400 produce items. Chain representatives could not be reached for comment.

According to Wendt, it’s important for Whole Foods to change consumer perceptions, “because other than price, there are not a lot of reasons for most people not to shop at Whole Foods — it offers a great shopping experience, transparency, a broad natural and organic selection and quality values on its 365 label.

“But the company has not seen as big a benefit from lowering prices on non-perishables as it thought it would get, so it’s shifting lower pricing to perishables, its primary sales driver, which accounts for two-thirds of total sales,” Wendt added. “Consumers tend to shop for perishables several times a week at Whole Foods, so the thinking is, they might notice the price changes faster there than they would in non-perishables — and perishables is also the section of the store where competitors like Sprouts and Natural Grocers are priced more favorably, so it’s not a surprise that’s where Whole Foods would lower prices.

“At this point the average consumer is probably not aware of what Whole Foods is doing, so by investing more in perishables pricing, it’s drawing more attention to a category that can help change its image.”


Supermarkets experiment with vegetarian foodservice


When Mariano’s opened its 23rd retail location this summer, the Chicagoland retailer introduced customers to a new foodservice concept that featured some traditional favorites. There were three kinds of burgers, pasta with marina sauce, and pizza. There were soups, salads and a generous dessert menu. The chocolate chip cookies, one visiting blogger noted, were delicious.

Yet for all that was recognizable about the menu, there was one major distinction: All the food was vegan and vegetarian.

Supermarkets eager to keep pace with the restaurant industry through their foodservice offerings have noted consumers’ shift away from meat-heavy dishes. They’ve seen the rise of Meatless Mondays and flexitarian eaters, the demand for fresher, healthier food and the increasing skepticism over meat’s health and sustainability profile. According to the research firm Datamonitor, New York, 30% of consumers say they’re trying to limit their consumption of meat.

Like Roundy’s-owned Mariano’s and its new concept, known as VEG’d, many have responded to these trends with sophisticated, flavor-forward vegetarian and vegan meals. Wegmans Food Markets feature veggie bars with internationally inspired dishes like Tuscan-style roasted squash and kale. Whole Foods Market, which for years has offered vegetarian and vegan prepared foods, recently opened a vegetarian diner called The Counter at its new store in Columbia, Md. The menu includes robust choices like a guacamole cubano, smoked cauliflower cheesesteak and fried avocado tacos.

Eataly’s La Verdure serves a vegan and vegetarian menu in both Chicago and New York.

Eataly’s La Verdure serves a vegan and vegetarian menu in both Chicago and New York.

“It wasn’t all that long ago that if you called something ‘vegetarian,’ it must be lacking in some way,” said Mary Chapman, senior director of product innovation with Technomic, a Chicago-based restaurant consulting firm. “That’s not the case anymore.”

Indeed, vegetarian and vegan cuisine has moved beyond the bland greens-and-tofu image that defined it for so many years. Now, said Chapman, consumers can enjoy meatless alternatives to burgers, lasagna, pizza and other dishes without feeling like they have to compromise, or necessarily identify, as a vegan or vegetarian.

Many foodservice-focused supermarkets have embraced this idea by offering veggie burgers, noodle bowls and other popular meatless options. Some, like Eataly, have gone a step further. The Mario Batali-owned gourmet market, with locations in New York and Chicago, features a suite of in-store restaurants including Le Verdure, which serves epicurean vegan and vegetarian fare. The menu includes dishes like gnocchi alla romana and fritto misto that celebrate vegetables not just as an alternative to meat options, but as a distinct culinary experience.

A polenta entree from Eataly’s vegetarian restaurant Le Verdure.

A polenta entree from Eataly’s vegetarian restaurant Le Verdure.

“We have a very strong base of regulars who are not  vegetarians or vegans,” said Alex Pilas, executive chef of Eataly USA. “We provide an alternative to many who want a break from a heavy, animal-based diet.”

The approach mirrors that of the restaurant industry. According to Technomic’s MenuMonitor service, the number of items listed as “vegetarian” has increased 15% over the past two years. Dishes listed as “vegan” have grown 41%, though on a much smaller scale.

Safeway adds frozens to Celebrity Chef Mexican line


Safeway has added frozen entrees to its exclusive  Marcela Valladolid-branded Mexican line.


The entrees are available in eight flavors, including Pork Chile Verde, Pastel Azteca and Chicken Mole Enchiladas.

The retailer promoted the entrees with a Facebook coupon for one free product.

The line was introduced last year with ready-to-cook meats, corn and flour tortillas, cheese and snacks.

Valladolid is a Food Network chef and cookbook author.

First New Hampshire Whole Foods includes pub restaurant.


A new Whole Foods Market store located in Nashua, N.H. — the retailer’s first in the state — also features its first in-store restaurant in the North Atlantic region.

J.Bartlett’s Public House is a pub-style restaurant with a menu that includes pizza, salads and sushi, as well as 32 beers on tap and wine by the glass. The restaurant seats 50.

The Nashua store also has a pizza oven, with a dedicated phone line for placing orders, and an Ole Hickory smoker for making brisket and other smoked dishes.

A cafe seating area makes use of reclaimed church pews.

“As a Nashua resident myself, I know how long New Hampshire residents have been waiting for a Whole Foods Market to open in our state,” Philip Devito, store team leader, said in a statement. “We’ve designed a store unlike any other in our region, and we are so excited to begin serving this community.”

Price Chopper, Whole Foods employees accept Ice Bucket Challenge.


Supermarket executives and employees have not been immune to the Ice Bucket Challenge, which asks participants to dunk themselves with ice water and post social media videos in order to raise money and awareness for the ALS Association.

Price Chopper’s Jerry Golub, president and CEO, and David Golub, SVP e-commerce and government relations, took the challenge in honor of their father, Lewis, who passed away from ALS five years ago.

 Employees of various Whole Foods locations have been passing on the challenge to associates at other stores. One employee at a store in West Hartford, Conn., took the challenge to a new level by placing herself in the bucket.
 Employees at the Whole Foods in Fairfield, Conn., responded with a line-up of nine participants.

The store manager of a Mrs. Green’s in West Windsor, N.J., also accepted the challenge, which was posed by one of his employees.

United States; Unexpected economic news (Abasto)


U.S. economic growth had a spectacular growth in the second quarter of 2014, which were far above all the estimates made by many analysts.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United States grew more than expected, at an annual rate of 4% in the second quarter, as it was announced by the Department of Commerce.

This is the largest economic expansion since the third quarter of 2013, after all activity shrank by 2.1% between January and March.

This is a very important fact considering that analysts expected the economy to grow at a rate of 3% during the second quarter.

According to the report, consumer spending grew 2.5% during the same period, while business spending rose 14%.

Despite this improvement, an increase in the general price index of 1.9%, compared with 1.4% in the first quarter, and it is expected that global growth this year will be only 1.6%.

On the other hand, U.S. companies created 218,000 jobs during the month of July compared the 281.00 set in June, according to a report by ADP private consultant.

President Barack Obama took advantage of the data from the GDP growth for the second quarter and stated that the economic policies promoted by his administration “are beginning to yield results”

He also assessed the progress in different economic matters, particularly in regards to the gradual reduction in the unemployment rate, which closed June at 6.1%, the lowest figure since 2008.

“Businesses are investing, workers build new homes, and consumers spend. The U.S. is exporting goods worldwide, so the decisions we make to rescue the economy are starting to pay off,” said the President.

However, President Barack Obama restated that the challenges still persist in the U.S where economic inequality has increased and the opportunities are shrinking.

TargetExpress; Target opens smallest store ever.


Target Corp. was scheduled to open its smallest store ever today near the University of Minnesota campus.

The 20,000-square-foot TargetExpress will carry about one-fifth the amount of merchandise a regular Target does, including dry groceries, produce, meat, deli, bakery and frozen items, with a large selection of grab-and-go foods; HBC items and a pharmacy; school supplies, home decor and a small electronics section.

The store also features a new checkout lane configuration geared to high traffic and smaller basket sizes.

“We’ll carefully evaluate this new format to determine plans for future growth,” the company said last January, when it announced plans to open the store.

It also said in January the smaller box would be “an exciting opportunity to test and learn as we continue exploring new ways to meet our guests’ needs. Our focus is on ensuring the Target shopping experience is available when, where and how guests want it.”

The store is located near Target’s headquarters in Minneapolis, on the ground floor of an apartment complex. Other retail space at ground level is so far unoccupied, according to published reports. Approximately 85% of the store staff is reportedly made up of college students.