Retail has been a calendar-based business for all of its 3500 year-old history. Seasonal promotions have always served an important part of the retail calendar, connecting with the human emotions of customers and driving peak spending patterns. But in the last twenty years something quite dramatic has emerged in the engineering of those promotional periods that has caused them to be stretched over much longer time frames – some up to 20 weeks now.
The two reasons this has happened are competitive fear and modern management structure and processes. Competitive fear is the perception of missed sales due to competitors stealing the march on a season. And modern management techniques have seen the emergence of data driven ‘departments’ which increasingly strive to gain silo based sales maximisation (as opposed to optimisation) at all costs, linked to performance remuneration.
The problem with all of this is that it is diametrically opposed to social trend and the drivers of customer behaviour. Increasingly, consumers are divided into planners and occasion crisis shoppers. Planners are the people who have an exhaustive, detailed list that they check off for each season with items they buy with thought and care – putting everything away until the date in question. These shoppers create the early peak and they are in decline.
The vast and growing majority of shoppers are too busy coping with their busy lives to plan and are pushing their purchases later and later toward last minute. With less time for thinking, their purchases are driven by convenience and efficiency and panic.
Extended promotional periods can create an early warning of a countdown to a seasonal peak. But they are also having two additional impacts. They are creating a wallpaper effect that – along with the unquenchable desire of consumers for new ‘news’ – is leading to negative motivation as the consumer sub-consciously registers “I’ve heard that the season is coming but it’s a long way off” and doesn’t click into conscious thought until very late. Often too late.
The other impact is cannibalisation and negative margin pressure. In particular with perishable goods like hot cross buns, they have to be consumed within a few days. So if I buy them in January I’m not saving them for Easter, I’m consuming them now, which is great for hot cross bun sales. But it means I’m not eating ‘something else’. Sales drop in that ‘something else’ and the standard response is to discount to drive sales back up. Likewise, July toy sales are not achieving the outcomes they once did as discounts go deeper and the shoppers who plan that far in advance are declining.
Apparel is even worse with first-Winter now appearing in the hottest month of the year and vice-versa. Fear of missing out or not, no retailer can maintain a deep enough celebratory emotional connection between a consumer and the customer experience for 20 weeks and the consumers need for continually changing stimulation to drive foot traffic and sales, as it is unaffordable and unsustainable at store level.
Time to re-examine your retail calendar and how you are managing it. Consumers now need new stimulus every week. Long seasons do not work any longer. So the answer is no, the Easter Bunny does not want to come out to play in January. You need to find out what does.
Peter James Ryan is head of Red Communication and can be contacted on (02) 9481 7215 or at email@example.com.
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