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The run-up to Christmas is traditionally a time when retailers cash in as we buy gifts and items for the home. But, as frequently reported in the press, online sales continue to threaten the high street by impacting severely on what is peak season for our bricks and mortar retailers.

Across the UK, we have seen the challenges faced by town centres as internet shopping thrives and some of our heritage stores reach the end of their commercial life.   So, if you are a town centre manager, shopping mall owner, or independent retailer who wishes to drive footfall this festive season, how can you go about it? In this blog, we take a look:

Fighting on the digital front

Just because high street and shopping mall retailers operate over the counter sales, that doesn't mean they can't take full advantage online too. Social media channels, websites and online news platforms provide tremendous opportunities for town centres and shopping malls to reach their audiences and drive footfall.  For example, the promotion of a special in store offer online; a competition which provides a voucher to claim in store; free parking; or an online advert publicising extended opening hours are just a few tactics to encourage an in-store visit.

There are also opportunities beyond the infamous Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers too. For example, this year 3 December is ‘International Day of Persons with Disabilities’ – an ideal opportunity for town centres to run promotions and activities to promote their accessible retailers and encourage an inclusive shopping experience for all!

You can also drive footfall through online PR too. In the same way that tourism destinations often provide local itineraries, why not promote your gifts by creating ‘Top Ten Present Ideas’ for those frantic shoppers with no idea what to buy their loved ones!  Also, retailers can buddy up with local cafes and restaurants, providing voucher offers or ‘shop & dine’ specials so everyone wins – retailer, restaurant and customer!

The larger retailers and brands plan for Christmas many months ahead, and often showcase their festive products to the media in July! The great thing about digital marketing, is it is accessible for smaller independent stores without huge financial investment or long lead-times.

Which channels are best?

Some social media channels are better than others when it comes to reaching consumers. Because Facebook is used by so many daily and offers the chance to run campaigns by geographical and interest profiling, it can be a great way to plug your promotions and events. There are many location-based online Facebook groups you can access too.

Instagram is also a great way to display engaging imagery which can provide a preview of your location, shop window or gifts, encouraging followers to pay a visit. Then there is Google, and the ability to operate pay-per-click campaigns which puts your adverts in pole position for relevant search results. The key thing is to make campaigns relevant to, and targeted at, your local audience.

It's all about the experience

Online retailers might claim they have the upper hand, due to the convenience of 'click and buy', but the high street has a serious trick up its sleeve. That is ‘the experience’. The ability to see, touch, feel and smell - or in the case of clothes, try before you buy. That is something which online shops simply can't replicate.

So why not take the experience to the next level, by holding a seasonal event. From Santa's grotto to a live band, free food tasting or a festival - there are so many ways to attract visitors - from there, the sales can follow.

I know of an independent beauty salon, who has temporarily taken over an adjacent empty unit to set up a pop-up ‘Selfie Station’. What a great way in which to promote their beauty-treatments and products to those seeking glamourous pics for their social channels or personalised Christmas cards. No doubt, a smart way to find new customers for the year ahead too!

Importantly, these entertainment experiences can make people want to return. Some years ago, I was advising a regional shopping mall, not far from the giant Bluewater Shopping Mall. Of course, the much smaller centre couldn’t compete on scale or range, but it could on ‘pop-in’ convenience, so we sought to offer visitor experiences through community events to drive footfall from local families. It worked a treat and won several industry awards in the process.

Creating Exceptional Customer Service

Serve first, sell second: Customers believe business is earned with service that is responsive, productive and personalised; don’t deliver and they’ll leave or be tempted by competitors. There is nothing worse when doing your festive shopping than to find yourself in a long, slow sales queue, or needing help when no-one is around.   Conversly, there is nothing worse than a pushy salesperson who doesn’t leave you alone to browse in peace! This can encourage us to go online for sure!


No question that parking is an important factor considered when people decide where to shop. Therefore, it is vital that local authorities work together with local businesses by reviewing their festive parking provisions to make sure that restrictions and charges support rather than hinder accessibility to local businesses. Of course, promoting public transport is a must too!

Engaging with Younger People

The festive season is a great time to attract the teen market and younger people into our town and village centres by providing a safe place for them to meet and socialise. But for our town centres to remain relevant, its important young people are encouraged to contribute to their evolution more strategically too - after all, our high streets will soon be theirs.

This very topic arose in recent discussions I was recently having with the leadership of a newly established BID. We were discussing how the College could encourage its students to engage with the new BID’s activities and ensure a ‘youth voice’ is heard. Young people clearly have a valuable contribution to make to the development of their town and this should be clearly be encouraged. Christmas is a great time to kick-start this process.

A BID to pull together

Business Improvement Districts (BIDS) have been a great vehicle for retail centres, where business leaders work together to put a buzz back into their town centres. Improving security, re-purposing empty shops and creating events can all lead to increased footfall from which all retailers can benefit. These locally-led initiatives can return our town centres back into the community hubs they were traditionally created to be.  Of course, if your town or village doesn’t have a formal BID in place, you can still spread the cost of running an event or delivering a promotional campaign across multiple channels by working with other businesses. Christmas is the ideal time to kick-start local initiatives to attract people of all ages for dining, leisure, culture, entertainment and much more…

So, here is some food for thought on marketing in the run-up to Christmas. There is every reason for shoppers to continue to continue to buy in-store, so long as we incentivise them to do so and create a great all-round experience in the process.

If you’d like help in creating a new marketing strategy for your retail area, or if you’d like to share your own experiences, I’d love to hear from you.   Call us on 07974 773989 for a confidential discussion. 


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