Christmas in July? Don’t believe it!

By Jack Abelson

Once again, retailers thought they could succeed this past holiday by rushing the season, both in decorations and early shopping. After enduring the idiocy of Midnight Madness at 12am Friday after Thanksgiving for the past few years, we saw the announcement of shopping starting at 8pm Thanksgiving night, an equally mad idea. Aside from the obvious disregard of the lives of their staffs, retailers deluded themselves into thinking this early start will increase their sales and their profits; nothing could be further from the truth, as we found out yet again.

Yes, I read the numbers this year of the tremendous sales derived from the “madness,” but what’s not stated are the costs, both markdowns and the human toll. These wonderful volumes are achieved at the expense of profits which do not have to be sacrificed over the course of the holiday season. This is the one time of the year when markdowns should matter less and the real emphasis must be on providing the best customer experience possible as every bricks and mortar retailer’s great nightmare, i.e., the internet, is lurking, ready to pounce. If the in-store experience is not worth the trip, you can bet on consumers going online; sadly, with the crazy extended hours, customer service suffers greatly as stores spread the same staff over more hours.

Further, the shopping season is at least four weeks long. This year was five, with Thanksgiving falling on the earliest possible date. Anyone who has been in the retail business for at least one holiday shopping season knows the highest volume days are those in the week before December 25th. Therefore, inducing people to shop early by offering large reductions only pushes the volume forward and reduces profit, regardless of whether or not the store bought for the event. The longer this trend continues, the deeper the markdowns have to be to attract shoppers. Never forget, the first 12 hour sale in 1982 offered 20 percent discounts, a reduction which would not inspire even a yawn today. Simply stated, the overall volume for the period remains the same and the madness produces no incremental volume.

Customers are short of two commodities, money and time, especially during the holidays. Therefore, anything which saves a shopper time is very important and adds to the value of whatever they buy. Given a choice, many people will opt to receive greater help and a better experience over simply paying the lowest price. Perhaps not every consumer feels this way, but enough do to matter. Furthermore, why should shopping be a chore and not fun? Even at crowded periods, with the season in full swing, a helpful staff in a fun environment makes the whole process easier to deal with and who does not want that?

What is next? The holiday shopping season declared by retailers to begin on July 5th perhaps? It makes no difference how early this happens; the results will be the same as this is not the answer.

The solution is to go back to Retail 101 and provide great service by showing and selling exciting merchandise, thereby stimulating customers to buy. Let’s try to make everyone look upon the holidays with joy and anticipation, rather than dread. When the day is done, that is the best way to ensure a prosperous and profitable time for all.

Jack Abelson is an industry consultant with many years of experience in the apparel business. He can be reached at jiabelson@aol.com.

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