Some major – and not so major – retailers began selling Christmas in July. Not just a few items, but a whole range of products starting filling the shelves a whole four months before customers are really ready to get their heads into the ‘spirit of the season’. Combine that with the annual July toy sales period and you have a call on customer’s conscious shopping that is disconnected with the very idea of the emotion of the season.
Within 8 weeks of going to market – sixteen weeks too early – deep discounting began and continued at pace all the way through to Christmas Day and indeed now, the January clearance sales.
Two forces combined are ruining the six weeks before Christmas as a previously bulletproof period of the major profit contribution trading for all retail. They are, the progressively transactional nature of selling and the deadly virus of margin-erosion through never-ending discounting.
Increasingly for Christmas retail – which used to be the most immersive, wonderful time of the year to shop – the customer experience is nothing more than products on shelves and mark down ticketing. Where once upon a time merchants took pride in outdoing each other with their seasonal decorations, music, staff attire, banter and sampling, the general state of affairs has denigrated to lowest staff levels possible, poorly motivated and often grumpy staff, tired visual merchandising and ordinary house-keeping.
Christmas fails to fire early because it’s just too early for the customer now and we compound the negative gift giving period with discounting that gives the products that you are meant to be buying with thoughtfulness and love an air of ‘cheap’.
If there was ever a time of year that spells out just how badly physical retail is stuffing it all up it is Christmas.
Right now it is instant for the whole industry to radically re-think this time of year in particular. Customers want Christmas retail to be magical. They want it to be immersive, filled with multi-sensory delight. They want fabulous gift ideas for the range of people they want to give ‘little gifts of love’ to – not cheap off price tat. They want happy store staff full of Christmas cheer. They want the season to run November through December – short, sharp and special.
Physical retail has so many advantages over virtual retail that it is taking for granted the many weapons it can use that should make it impregnable. And the two attributes that are missing the most are imagination and charm. It is time to reverse the trend and fast.
And the period to start is Christmas. Mainly because you have a customer that is genuinely pleading with you to empathise with them. They want you to make the season special. Not the six months leading up to it – the real Christmas season.
Time to replace the ‘bah humbug’ with the ‘Ho. Ho. Ho’. Then we can all celebrate.
Peter James Ryan is a retail expert and head of Red Communication. 02 9481 7215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.