A Happier Holiday
By Mark Kalaygian

Could this be a merry Christmas? According to some professional prognosticators, retailers should feel a little extra holiday cheer as we near the end of the all-important holiday selling season.

Despite nagging high unemployment figures and the conservative shopping sensibilities that consumers have clearly adopted over the past four years of economic turmoil, many retail industry experts were optimistic—albeit, cautiously so—that stores would see an uptick in holiday sales this year. For example, the National Retail Federation is predicting a retail sales increase of 4.1 percent over Q4 2011.

Among the indicators being cited as evidence that this will be a happier holiday season is the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, which reached a level of 72.2 in October. That mark has not been hit since February 2008.

This confidence is also evidenced by retailers’ bullish holiday hiring plans for 2012, according to the Hay Group, a Philadelphia-based consulting firm. In a survey conducted by the Hay Group, 36 percent of participating retailers reported that they planned to hire more holiday staff this year than last—up from just 10 percent in 2011.

Of course, there are no guarantees when it comes to predicting holiday success in retail stores. Despite the existence of positive indicators, there are still plenty of reasons for retailers to be cautious in their optimism. For example, while consumer confidence is reportedly better than it has been in years, it still is nowhere near the level that would indicate a healthy economy (90+). What’s more, the economic forces at play could drastically change the holiday narrative for retailers practically overnight. A significant surge in energy prices or decline in employment levels could derail what looks to be shaping up as a happier holiday for retailers.

Whatever direct impact this year’s fourth-quarter sales performance ultimately has on a retailer’s bottom line, the true measure of success for pet stores this holiday season will be how effective they can be in turning seasonal shoppers into loyal repeat customers. Therefore, it is essential that retailers put their best foot forward during this busy season and offer customers a reason to come back again and again after the calendar flips to 2013. This means ensuring that the store’s product assortment effectively meets the needs of its customer base, and that the level of customer service on display in your aisles is unmatched.

For pet retailers that can accomplish these goals, even fourth-quarter sales that prove flat or a tick lower than expected will not keep this from being a happy holiday.