Store window with holiday decorations

Holiday Retail Merchandising Essentials: Your Step-By-Step Planning Guide

by • October 25, 2017 • Merchandising + TrendsComments Off on Holiday Retail Merchandising Essentials: Your Step-By-Step Planning Guide2474

With Halloween spending up 8.3% over last year — from 8.4 billion to $9.1 billion, according to the National Retail Federation — and the winter holidays approaching faster than Barbra Streisand’s version of “Jingle Bells,” your impeccable window displays and artfully organized merchandising couldn’t be more crucial. The Insider presents your step-by-step guide to season-long success!

Though your social media presence, in a way, is a kind of window display – according to Instagram Business, 80% of its users follow a business on the app and, as of 2016, 75% of users took action after seeing a post – getting customers interested is only the first step in the sales journey.

But is getting people through the shop door enough?

Retailers can now track their ability to turn seasonal browsers into buyers using retail analytics products like the aptly named Dor, a thermal-sensor that monitors foot traffic and aggregates that data on a user-friendly dashboard.

Dor aims to be as accessible to the independent store as it is to the national chain and answer questions like: are those neon reindeer in front of your store not only drawing crowds but sales too?

picture of Annie's Blue Ribbon General Store storefront

At Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store, a Park Slope, Brooklyn mainstay that just celebrated its tenth anniversary last month, the holidays are a particularly busy time and holiday merchandising begins as soon as the last year’s holidays have ended.

Always Think About The Holidays

“For me,” says owner and Fashion Institute of Technology professor, Ann Cantrell, “it’s what did we do right from the year before, what could we have done better? I literally spend the first six months of the year just looking at new product I wish we had for the last Holiday, then the next six months getting excited to have the new items for THIS Holiday.”

Inspired by long-established general stores like Alley’s General Store of Martha’s Vineyard and Australia’s Remo General Store, it was a visit to Liberty of London that reminded Cantrell of how essential displays and merchandising would be.

Make It Easy on Your Shoppers and Get Ready for January

Cantrell is most concerned with whether her store’s layout lets the customer understand the items she’s so painstakingly selected. “We do try to put a lot of thought into how things are going to be displayed. I don’t want to make it hard for people to shop in any way.”

How to make it easy? “We do turn our tables often and are constantly adding new products to them,” Cantrell told us. Annie’s also features an inventive and playful ornament section and this year, they’ll include an expanded Hanukkah section.

Their counter will include last-minute purchases to catch the customer’s eye. And, Cantrell says, “we definitely make a concerted effort to try to keep all the like-minded product in one place so the customer doesn’t have to look too hard to find what they need.”

Because Annie’s doesn’t get a lot of returns, Cantrell considers January an opportunity for customers to come in and get whatever didn’t make it under the tree, so to speak. “We try to put in a lot of newness and freshness in January to get the customer ready for the subtle change and shift.”

Sooooo many fun goodies at the shop!! #comevisit #shopsmall #generalstore

A post shared by Annie's Blue Ribbon (@anniesblueribbongeneralstore) on


Guide to Holiday Merchandising à la Annie’s

1. Be thinking about holiday merchandising all year long.
2. Tell a simple story with your products and your layout.
3. Gather last minute gifts at the counter.
4. Don’t make the customer work too hard – keep similar products in one place
5. Refresh inventory in January so customers can treat themselves to whatever they missed.
6. Unload product and set up displays after the store closes.

(Psst, they also have an Etsy.)

'Tis the season to #eggnogandchill 🎄!! This clever plaid mug is holiday perfection! #passtheeggnog #holidaytime #tistheseason #anniesmugshot

A post shared by Annie's Blue Ribbon (@anniesblueribbongeneralstore) on


Visual Merchandising Trends: See the Displays That Make Buyers Look Harder, Shop Longer, and Spend More.


In-Store “Shops” and Customer Education

Further south, Cris Willis of Parsons Gift Stores in Cumming, Georgia, isn’t at all shy about spreading Christmas cheer: “Seasonal items are a big driver for us,” she admits. “There is our 5,000 square foot ‘Shoppe’ next door to the main store that features Garden Décor from February to August — and then it’s converted to Parsons Christmas Shoppe that opens each year in September.”

Also: Wreath decorating sessions! Educating your customers with free in-store holiday-themed “workshops” (pumpkin carving, wreath making, tree trimming, etc.) throughout the season not only keeps them there — but tends to lead to purchases!

We are excited to announce that Parons is hosting some Wreath Making Sessions! If you love what Kim and Gary do at Parsons and want to learn how to recreate their wreaths and mailbox covers for your own home, then here is what you need to do:⠀ ⠀ ⠀ 1) Call or come in to Parsons to sign up for one of our 1-hour time slots on the 20th or 21st. ⠀ ⠀ 2) Purchase your wreath or mailbox cover plus all of the items you wish to decorate it with from Parsons (we will not have time to help you decorate a wreath with anything not purchased from Parsons).⠀ ⠀ 3) Show up at your allotted time to work with Kim and Gary to make a beautiful wreath or mailbox cover for your home!⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ #parsonsgiftscumming #wherefunmeetsfabulous #shoplocal #shopsmall #shopaholic #cummingga #cumminggeorgia #forsythcounty #forforsyth #seeyouatparsons #wreathmaking #wreathmakingworkshop #wreath #wreathlove #wreathofallseasons #christmasiscoming #christmasisintheair #christmastime

A post shared by Parsons Gifts (@parsonsgiftscumming) on

Keeping Things Under Wraps

Sheri Moretz of Mast General — a family of nine stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee — plans to keep it “low key” until the first week of November.

“We utilize wrapped presents as a big part of our decorations,” says Moretz. “These are nested among the antiques we have on the high walls [the space above the displays and merchandising around the store]. Inside we use some garland on display units and on the railings going upstairs. Our windows are merchandised using winter clothing and ‘flocked’ snow to conjure up visions of a day in Bedford Falls, the fictional town in It’s a Wonderful Life.


Guide to Holiday Merchandising (and Some Marketing) à la Mast General

1.Use simple, fresh greenery wreaths with red bows.
2.Host events like book signings (with local authors!) and/or food samplings.
3.Cross-market with other special holiday events that people within your local area participate in (like “A Night Before Christmas” in downtown Waynesville, NC).
4.Schedule visits with Santa!
5.As the holidays get closer, consider extending your shopping hours to allow people who work during the week to have the convenience of stopping by.
6.Offer featured promotions the weekend after Thanksgiving — Mast opens its doors one hour early to allow people to take advantage of “doorbusters.”


Love Sheri’s advice? Check out her Main Street tips for selling Menswear & Accessories here.


The holiday season is a fantastic time for the thoughtful retailer to put it all on the table, so to speak, and to assess what’s working and what isn’t. It all comes down to the retailers’ holy grail: making every customer visit count.

And, when in doubt, January is just around the corner!


Finding on-trend (and affordable) seasonal merchandise for your shop at incredible margins is hard. ASD makes it easy. Get your free ticket here to the next ASD Market Week in Las Vegas — the largest merchandise trade show and retail education conference in the U.S.!


by Katherine Schorr and Haas Regen

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