Five Tips for Turning Picky Holiday Shoppers Into BuyersYou may not want to think about the holiday season before Halloween, but for retailers it's inevitable. Often, merchandise needs to be ordered now to be in stores for December. The trick is figuring out how much to order so far ahead, especially with the economy stuck in sleep mode.

If you order too much, you're stuck with pitching money-losing closeouts in January. If you don't order enough, you could miss sales.

For what it's worth in our fast-changing economic scene, the holiday shopping forecasts are in, and they're pretty gloomy. If you thought last year was challenging, an even tougher season looms ahead.

Just how bad it will be depends on who you ask. A recent Gallup poll found shoppers wouldn't spend more this holiday season compared with last year's holiday haul. The National Retail Federation expects 2.8 percent sales growth, which is down from last year's relatively anemic 4 percent growth.

Perhaps the key figure is from ShopperTrak, which measures retail foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores. They're expecting holiday sales to rise 3 percent -- but foot traffic will be down 2.2 percent. Translation: There will actually be fewer shoppers visiting stores in November and December, and, as a result, you'll have to get more of them to buy to see your sales grow.

How can you turn up sales in a down year? Here are five tips:

  1. "Flash" sales. Get customers in with one-night-only or other short-term events.
     
  2. Private sales. Reward your best customers by offering an event with special merchandise only for them.
     
  3. Work with merchants. An increasing number will work with you to ship goods closer to holiday time. Find out now what flexibility they have and how fast they could get you a last-minute order if you have an unexpected sellout. Also, see if your vendors have any unusual or exclusive merchandise you could add to your stock to drive interest.
     
  4. Collaborate. Create a package deal offer with other local merchants to bring more shoppers to your area.
     
  5. Up your 'wow' factor. What could you do to surprise and delight customers and make your store a holiday destination? Take a page from drugstore chain Duane Read, which recently unveiled a new prototype in which a holographic "virtual assistant" greets you at the door.  Even without that sort of budget, you can create a special experience that makes customers want to shop at your store every holiday season. Serve appetizers and hire a band, have a bingo night and give out prizes -- let your imagination run wild.

What will you do to drive more holiday sales? Leave a comment and let us know.