The U.S. Census Bureau tracks a great deal more than just population statistics. They manage many thousands of data series’ including those that measure retail sales in the U.S.
These reports and surveys include the:
- Advance Monthly Retail Trade Survey
- Monthly Retail Trade Survey
- Annual Retail Trade Survey
- Quarterly E-commerce Report
- Business Expense Supplement
Together these reports give a comprehensive and robust view of retail sales in the country. The Advance Monthly Retail Trade Survey is compiled by sending surveys to a sample set of businesses. Responding is required by law.
The most recent advance report showed modest gains from the previous period and a 7.7 percent increase from the same period a year ago. The next report showing October 2010 advance monthly sales will be released on November 15th. The schedule for advance monthly sales for retail and food services through December 2011 can be found here.
Even if we continue to see modest gains in retail sales, many businesses are still struggling to grow sales with limited, or even nonexistent budgets. If you are looking for ways to increase sales without spending much, try these ideas:
Maximize upsell opportunities
Upselling is a highly profitable tactic for increasing sales and profitability per customer. It involves inducing a customer to purchase additional or more expensive products and services than they had originally intended. The incremental cost of achieving the additional sales is negligible. The customer was already intent on making a purchase.
As consumers we are continually exposed to upselling. When you order a hamburger and are asked if you want the “meal deal” – which adds french fries and a soft drink – that is an upsell. Being asked to upgrade to run flat tires when you purchase a sports car is also an upsell.
Upselling can be applied to virtually any type of customer and industry. It can also be used effectively across multiple sales channels: your website, call center, retail space and more.
Execution is important. Using deception or acting desperately are poor ways to conduct upselling. It’s critical to ensure that your employees understand this and that your incentive scheme does not inadvertently promote bad behavior. Adding a quick survey at the end of a customer’s buying process to assess how the sales person treated them may counteract the desire to upsell too aggressively.
Facilitate impulse purchases
An impulse purchase is an unplanned decision to buy a product or service which is usually made right before a planned purchase is consummated. These are emotional, not rational, purchases. Recent studies estimate that about 20 percent of purchases are unplanned. A recent study by Miller Zell, a leading retail strategist, indicates that 51 percent of buyers make unplanned or impulse purchase decisions.
Some proven tactics for increasing impulse purchases include:
- Using in-store signage that attracts attention and is positioned at or close to the point of sale
- Making the process as simple as possible, ensuring that the buyer won’t be delayed by making the impulse purchase
- For online and call center sales channels, including impulse purchases as part of the standard check-out order flow and script.
To determine the success of your impulse purchase campaign, establish benchmarks for sales based on recent performance by category, location, channel and employee. Consider implementing a management dashboard to assist with the process.
Optimize your selling environment
Paco Underhill, president of Envirosell, a behavioral research and consultancy firm focused on commercial environments, is also the author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping” which discusses his research and methods for enhancing retail sales. One area covered in the book is organization of inventory. There are many tactics that can be used to make it easier for your customers to access higher-priced and higher-margin products. Steps like placing preferred items on shelves at eye-level, adjusting lighting and optimizing the floor plan can generate material increases in the sale of high-margin products.
Will all of these tactics work as planned? No. Nothing ever does! But it is definitely worth trying them out.
Mike Periu is the founder of EcoFin Media, LLC an independent producer of financial, economic and entrepreneurial content for television, radio, print and the Internet. Over the past ten years he has started three companies and advised over 50 companies on financial strategies including fundraising. Mike also hosts regular small business webinars on a range of topics relevant to business owners.