The November and December months are when the retailer does 75% of its annual business. But given the pandemic and the uncertainty of its progression in the coming months, Christmas Central predicts a modest 25% spike in online holiday sales for the 2020 season compared with its 75% sales spike during the 2019 holiday season.

Holiday decor and supplies retailer Christmas Central starts prepping for the holidays nearly a year in advance. So, for the 2020 holiday season, Christmas Central began preparing in October 2019, says Nathan Gordon, chief information officer for the retailer’s parent company Gordon Companies Inc.

The holidays, specifically in November and December, are when the retailer does 75% of its annual business and its sales also spike about 75% during that time compared with the rest of the year. But this year, given the pandemic and the uncertainty of its progression in the coming months, Gordon isn’t sure how much sales will grow. The retailer is planning for a 25% spike rather than its usual 75%, he says.

“We want to be a little more conservative, but if it’s higher, then we’ll figure that out,” Gordon says. “We should know in early October what the growth for the Christmas season will be. My gut is telling me it will be higher because there will still be a lot of people who won’t go to a store because they don’t want to.”

Sales spiked for the retailer when the U.S. locked down due to the pandemic in mid-March. “Easter, Fourth of July, other spring and summer holidays started selling out instantly,” he says.

Gordon Companies also owns PoolCentral.com, which experienced more than 500% year over year growth in some outdoor product categories in the last few months. But Gordon says the company peaked in sales in May with a 400-500% year over year increase across its retail businesses. But even in late June, it was still up 200-300% year over year. “We were having Christmas volume in April and May,” he says.

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Holiday prep begins

Christmas Central’s holiday prep begins with product selection. It decides on its merchandise based on what sold last year and what might sell more this year. Then, it orders products from its suppliers by March 1 to be ready in time for the holidays, the retailer says. In a typical year, it also hires about 150 seasonal, temporary workers in its fulfillment centers in October.

“That’s a lot of people that have to be trained in a short window,” Gordon says. “The flip side, however, is that we’re double the staff we normally have right now because of the sales spikes, so we already have that in place that’s being trained. So we have a bigger, better core going into Q4 than we would normally.”

The Thanksgiving through Christmas window is short again with 28 days—although 2 days longer than last year’s 26 days—so the retailer is strategizing its on-time fulfillment plan, he says. It aims to ship items out by 2:30 p.m. the same day it is ordered. “It could be a challenge this year, especially if we have that anticipated growth,” Gordon says.

However, it has spent the last few months improving its efficiency in its warehouses, such as better learning its new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, as well as figuring out how to keep things moving swiftly when the retailer has to stagger shifts for more social distancing.

To help with the deluge of orders and increase its shipping speed, Christmas Central plans to purchase 100,000-square-foot warehouses in Las Vegas and Memphis in the coming months, although Gordon declined to reveal more. Right now, it has 400,000 square feet of warehousing spread out over four locations in Buffalo, New York. But with these new warehouse locations, it will be able to deliver items in 2 days to 90% of the U.S., Gordon says.

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How to send the right message for the holidays

Another challenge for the holidays is sending the right marketing message. And Christmas Central has changed its tone to be more sensitive to what’s going on in the world, says Laura Gordon, director of communications for Gordon Companies Inc.

“It’s not the time to be blatantly pushing goods at people,” she says. “Our ads are more about community and what we’re doing to help.”

Christmas Central, however, has spent less on advertising since mid-March and is getting four times the return, she says. “I don’t know if it’s our messaging or if other retailers are scaling back,” Laura Gordon says. “But we’re not spending as much as we were last year, and we’re seeing a much, much higher return.”

Christmas Central digitally advertises on Google, Bing, Facebook and Instagram. And it has recently had success with Pinterest, she says. “With so many people being home, Pinterest has been a great tool for us.” It also works with a lot of blogs that incorporate its products for topics, such as how to use the retailer’s patio furniture in an outdoor space or how to keep kids entertained while sheltering at home.

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A lot of its holiday messaging will focus on making time spent at home special, Laura Gordon says, as many consumers are unsure if they will be able to travel to see family or even spend time indoors with extended family because of the pandemic. “We’re really driving the idea that you can make your Christmas at home special by brightening up the holidays with new Christmas decor,” she says.

Christmas Central is No. 910 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000.

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