Ask @RetailPhil: How to Manage When You Carry the Holiday Season’s Hottest Item


It’s the holiday season, so brands and retailers are scrambling to finish out the year with as many sales dollars as they can possibly muster. In other words, it’s crunch time, and every minute that consumers spend looking at your shelves and your products means a high potential for making a sale.

Every year, there’s a ‘must-have’ item that puts shoppers in a frenzy. There’s always a Tickle Me Elmo that turns stores into a veritable battleground, with shoppers willing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on the prize. This begs the question: what can you do as a retailer to ensure that you attract as many shoppers as you can while ensuring that your guest experience remains optimal?

Here are just a few things you can do to manage when you have the season’s best-seller on your shelves…


Recognize that you’ve got a hot selling item and react quickly

Last year’s “hot item” was Hatchimals. Hot selling items like these have high visibility – everybody wants to know where to buy one, where to get one, and who still has it in stock. Make sure you stock and display your hot item in a prime location to sell out early. Definitely don’t squirrel it away! Put out as much as you can on display so to drive traffic to your store. While you’re maximizing your sales, be sure to get that extra order over to the vendor to see if you can get more of the hot selling item in stock.

Work with your brands

Talk to your brands and find out how much inventory of the best seller they have. If they have limited stock, clearing out your inventory puts you first in line to grab whatever is left. Brands don’t want inventory lying around their warehouse when December 31st arrives, so they’ll be inclined to ship to the first in line. Make sure you’re asking the brand about their intention to keep supplying their items – this affects how you work with your consumers once the hot selling product is gone.


Have a plan that everyone can follow

You’ll most likely have more consumers in your store than any other time of the year, so you’ll want to have a clear, concise plan for consumers, as well as your own store staff to ensure that you don’t have any empty shelves. Empty shelves result in a bad consumer experience, and more importantly, lost sales. Be clear with staff about the next best item to put in place once your best seller is gone, and make sure you pre-print your labels and already have an execution plan in place.


The mechanics of keeping your consumer happy

Of course, this is easier said than done. When the hot item is gone, you’ll need to set consumer expectations, and offer an experience that will keep consumers coming back. There may be some unhappy consumers in your store looking still looking for Hatchimals – do you plan to offer rain-checks? Before you do this, check with your brands to make sure they’re going to have the stock in a timely fashion to support that decision. Rain-checks aren’t a great option this time of year because, well, you can’t gift wrap a rain-check (let alone place it under a Christmas tree) More importantly, they mean consumers leave your store empty-handed.

Instead, offer your consumer a comparable item that you think they can be reasonably satisfied with. If you have a comparable item to sell, there’s still a high likelihood that it, while not being the ‘hot item of the day’, may stay with the giftee and never makes its way back to your store. Keep in mind returns are to be expected – approximately 10 percent of holiday sales get returned after Christmas.

It’s an exciting time of year, so interact with consumers and start making sales! Having the hottest item on the market in your store presents tons of great sales opportunities. Take steps to prepare for this and you’ll be resting happily after the season is finally over.

Image via Flickr



As the Retail Industry Manager at Hubba, Phil is responsible for uncovering both emerging trends and insights that may impact businesses engaged in commerce. With 20 years of experience under his belt, Phil helps brands and retailers adapt to the the new realities of retail and the next generation of commerce. Phil is a frequent speaker at industry events in Canada and the US, across multiple verticals, and is a featured writer in trade publications such Retail TouchPoints, Pet Product News, BikeBiz, and more.