It’s The Most Wonderful (Or Not) Time Of The Year

Thanksgiving is falling in the last week of November this year. With only 26 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, instead of the typical 32, the most wonderful time of the year will be six days shorter in 2013. That’s almost 25% less selling time in this year’s holiday season compared to last year. Perhaps the shorter season will spur more shopping on Thanksgiving Day, or perhaps last-minute shopping panic will set in over the weekend before Christmas. What can retailers do to ensure they get their piece of the holiday pie?

Catch consumers’ attention sooner. No matter what, less time means the sooner you catch shoppers’ attention the more likely you will win. Expect more aggressive fall “holiday” promotions and practices tailored to early shoppers like lay-away plans. Both the early bird doing some holiday shopping among the back-to-school sales and the extreme procrastinator shopping on Dec. 24 need you to engage them when they are ready and motivated to shop…whenever and wherever that is. Make it easy for shoppers to find what they are looking for – whether it is online or in your advertising circulars. You know what shoppers are looking for so feature the hot categories early and prominently.

Make messaging clear and value-oriented. In the U.S. today, more than 60% of the population has only 25% of the income, so this group wants to know they are getting the absolute best price on the products they buy. More affluent customers are savvy but are also motivated by promotions, free shipping and other deals, even when buying premier brands. The last few years have taught shoppers across the demographic spectrum how to save and the meaning of value, so make your messaging consistent and credible. Today’s savvy shoppers will not be lured with disingenuous savings.


Leverage Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Given the shortened shopping time, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will play increasingly important roles in kicking off this season’s shopping.  Be sure you are communicating with consumers prior to this important weekend. We can expect many consumers will be making their shopping plans long before they are eating their Thanksgiving pie. Make sure that you are covering each of your key targets with a mix of media that is right for them with messages that are timely and relevant.  For example, depending on WHO your consumer is, you will need to adjust the ratio of digital and print to get both coverage and activation.  Today’s technology has moved consumers to a very complex path to purchase, so be sure to have the right mix. WHAT they are buying, or should we say what you are selling, will also influence your media plan and how soon you need to start messaging them. If you are looking to unload a lot of big ticket items, you better start your ad campaign as soon as possible.

Let the past be your guide. Last November, when Prosper Insights asked consumers when they planned to start their shopping for the holiday season, 60% said they start in November and December, but 70% are still shopping during the last two weeks of December. Statistics from the National Retail Federation show the newest trend — Thanksgiving day shopping, with a rise to more than 35 million in 2012. This represents a 21% increase over the previous year. Black Friday followed with a 3.5% increase in retail foot traffic. Who knows how these numbers will be influenced by the shortened shopping season. Another question in the Prosper Insights survey asked what media would influence consumers to shop a store during the holidays and 46% said coupons, 28% broadcast TV and word of mouth, 24% advertising inserts, 20% direct mail and 19% email ads.  But when it comes to keeping track of those same retailers’ holiday sales? Its advertising inserts turn to be No. 1 at 49%, followed by emails at 31%. 

Tweak your approach. The calendar poses a unique challenge to marketers so it will not be business as usual. We know consumers use advertising circulars to keep track of retailers’ holiday sales (Prosper Insights), yet the largest shopping day for holiday shoppers is consistently Saturday (ShopperTrek December 2012). It makes sense for advertisers to supplement their Sunday advertising with mid-week media. So whether it is direct mail, digital, mobile or in-store, make sure you are communicating with shoppers before they hit the stores on Saturday.  Expect to see more “flash sales” and mobile advertising designed to engage and motivate consumers throughout their path to purchase.

Understand the impact of consumer sentiment. No matter when they start their holiday shopping, consumers are still in a very practical mode. While consumer confidence is moving up and unemployment may be going down, it is happening at a snail’s pace, so consumers are still very cautious. The good news for this holiday season is despite the cautious consumer attitude, Baynote predicts the 2013 holiday spend will increase by at least 11%. If predictions hold true, that would push holiday retail spending to more than $640 billion this year, compared to the nearly $579 billion spent in 2012. According to Frank Badillo, chief economist at Kantar Retail, the number of shopping days does not determine the total spending during the holiday season. “Variables such as disposable income, channel prices, gasoline prices and housing starts are the factors that shape the strength or weakness of retail spending in November and December.” The retailers that understand today’s cautious consumer will win.

By engaging consumers early, communicating relevant, value-oriented messaging, advertisers can get their share of the expected growth in holiday spending. Tweaking campaigns, to integrate mid-week advertising with Sunday circulars and the emerging mobile and digital technologies, is also key to winning in this most wonderful time of the year.

Thérèse Mulvey is the Vice President, Marketing Intelligence for Valassis. She has been working in the field of marketing, research and business development for nearly 25 years. Mulvey leads Valassis’ market and consumer research programs and response measurement and predictive analytic capabilities.

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