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Online Retail Expected To Be Up This Holiday Season

According to statistics presented by the National Retail Federation, U.S. holiday online retail sales from brick-and-mortar outfits will be down 1% this year. On the other hand, comScore (SCOR) predicts online retail sales to be up 3% in November and December.

The online retail segment is still a very small portion of the total retail market (only 7% of total retail sales according to Forrester Research). However, there is good reason to trust that the online retail segment will continue to develop into a larger share of total retail sales.

While online retail companies, such as Amazon.com (AMZN – Analyst Report) and eBay (EBAY – Analyst Report) have been around for a while, the number of established retailers exploring the online retail area continues to grow. For example, Target Corp. (TGT – Snapshot Report), Best Buy Co. (BBY – Analyst Report) Toys R Us and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT – Snapshot Report) have started their own online stores.

Customers regularly opt for online retail purchasing due to its convenience, or when they need to save time. Other advantages include reviews by previous buyers, which reduce chances of remorseful buys and bargains and promotions, which bring down costs. However, most online retailers push the cost advantage the most, which is a stress on margins.

With the economy still in the despondency and unemployment rates still so low, consumers are still watcing their wallets. Therefore, marketing programs this holiday season are targeted at budget spending.

eBay’s online retail holiday deals include free shipping, discounts and guaranteed returns on new items. The company has also tied with Microsoft (MSFT – Analyst Report) for a place in the favorites menu of Internet Explorer 8. The online retail space is being used to offer information on its Daily Deals. Amazon.com and Walmart.com also offer similar online retail benefits, including the limited-time offers.

Target.com has shown a bit more ingenuity, offering online retail shopping tools such as a gift tracker that could help the user shop within budget and a Holiday 101 list that includes holiday necessaries that are likely to be overlooked.

The bottom line is, consumers expect to spend less this year, so older products on which prices have been lowered, such as Apple’s (AAPL – Analyst Report) iPod touch, Nintendo’s (NTDOY) Wii, Sony’s (SNE – Analyst Report) PS3 and Amazon’s Kindle are likely to remain hot. Garmin’s (GRMN – Analyst Report) GPS products and Hewlett-Packard’s (HPQ – Analyst Report) mini netbooks are also expected to do well.

Holiday Jerks, Clerks, Retail Pros and the 35% Difference

There will be three types of specialty store employees working this Black Friday weekend. The first type is the jerk. The second type of specialty store employee is the clerk who facilitates the customer’s transaction. The third type is the retail pro who will deliver an amazing customer experience to each and every customer this weekend. Here are three other major differences between the holiday jerk, clerk and retail pro.

There will be three types of specialty store employees working this Black Friday weekend.

The first type is the jerk. They hate working retail, so of course they’ll be extra miserable this weekend. I know you’re not a jerk because jerks don’t take the time to read this article.

The second type of specialty store employee is the clerk who facilitates the customer’s transaction. They’ll make sure customers find what they need or want, and will get them rung up and out the door. Clerks are nice people, but they miss a lot of opportunities.

The third type is the retail pro who will deliver an amazing customer experience to each and every customer this weekend. It will be fun and rewarding for both the customer and for the pro. Retail pros create many additional opportunities.

The biggest difference between the clerk and the retail pro is a 35% or more swing in sales. That’s right; it can be that much of a difference. I know, because I see it with my consulting clients.

Here are three other major differences between the holiday jerk, clerk and retail pro:

1. First impressions

A jerk will ignore customers, hoping they go away. Most will.

A clerk will say, “How may I help you?” to virtually every customer who walks in the door.

A retail pro will warmly welcome each customer into the store. The pro knows that asking a question that leads to the answer, “Just looking” is an impediment to delivering a great experience and making a sale.

2. Helping the customer

A jerk will point the customer to what they’re looking for.

A clerk will find out what the customer is looking for and take him/her to it.

A retail pro will always focus on the customer’s shopping list, not the single item he/she is looking for. Retail pros sell more by focusing on who, not what. They will also give the customer an opportunity to buy something for her/himself.

3. Adding-on

A jerk never bothers to add-on. That takes too much time and effort.

A clerk might suggest one additional item after asking, “Will that be it?”

A retail pro, like the jerk, doesn’t bother to add-on, either. That’s because the retail pro SELLs ON. The retail pro never asks, “Will that be it” because she knows that question stops the sale. The retail pro keeps showing products and delivering a fabulous experience until the customer says that will be it.

4. Final results

Stores staffed with jerks will have a pretty tough weekend. Of course it won’t be the jerk’s fault. It never is.

Stores with clerks will work extremely hard to get close to last year’s numbers, and maybe even exceed it.

Stores with retail pros will more than likely blow past last year’s sales and this year’s goal. They’ll prove that people still enjoy shopping in stores where the staff cares and the experience is different.

So let me ask, will you be a retail pro this weekend? Follow the above suggestions and you’ll see the results. Who knows, maybe 35% or more!