When is it too early to promote a holiday? In July, I saw Halloween costumes for sale. In September, a national chain store had December holiday items out on its shelves.
Just why have retailers increased the shelf life of holiday goods over the years? For the same reason any retailer does anything—money.
Black Friday and the Recession
For the past nine years, Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving—has been the busiest shopping day of the year. The nickname for this heavy shopping day comes from the idea that most retailers operate at a loss, or “in the red,” from January through November, but on the Friday after Thanksgiving, they turn a profit, or are “in the black,” due to the influx of purchasing shoppers.
The holiday season has always been a catalyst for many businesses. For most small to mid-size retailers, the holiday season accounts for 20 to 40 percent of their total yearly sales. In 2013, Americans spent $46.55 billion during the holiday season, more than doubling what people spent in 2005 ($19.6 billion). Even within the past decade, people are spending nearly twice as much as they used to during the holiday season.
Financially, there’s now a lot at stake for retailers during the holidays, so it’s no surprise stores are displaying Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa decorations as early as summer.
This is especially true since the recession struck. Kathy Grannis, a spokesperson at the National Retail Federation, believes the recession put the “Christmas creep” into motion faster, bringing more intense competition and advertising for holiday promotions. But at what point do your holiday promotions push the limits of good taste and try your shoppers' patience? According to the experts, it's time to back off when your promotions start to become ineffective.
Banner Blindness: A Cautionary Tale
In the 1990s, the Internet was a much different place. Website owners had been using many different types of methods to get as much revenue from their online stores as possible and cramming as many ads into the real estate of their sites. At first, this was hugely profitable, because Web users weren’t conditioned to know which elements of the page were ads and they tried to pay attention to every part of the page.
But humans have the incredible ability to adapt, and when something that we consider harmful, an obstacle or just plain annoying is given to us repeatedly, we learn to side-step it. As people became more conditioned on what to expect from websites, they consciously (or unconsciously) began to ignore the banner elements of Web pages, thus creating the “banner blindness” phenomena.
In addition, many consumers have caught on to a common tactic retailers use to make their Black Friday and other holiday sales seem better than they really are. In the days leading up to the sale, business owners will raise prices or reuse discounts from earlier in the year.
As the holiday sales blitz starts earlier each year and more companies use questionable tactics to make their sales seem better than their competitors, their early holiday promotions will no longer be as effective because they'll no longer be a genuine act.
When Is Enough Enough?
There’s nothing wrong with planning and capitalizing on the holiday season; after all, people are going to spend money during that time of the year anyway. But you need to remember that it's all about balance: You want to make the most of the holiday season's sales potential, but you don't want to push too hard, or you'll turn off customers.
Studies show that most adults don’t really mind four months of holiday ads. But there's also no real evidence that supports the theory that earlier holiday shopping ads mean more sales.
Robert Passikoff, president of brand research consulting firm Brand Keys, says this about the effectiveness of early advertising: “There’s been this theory over the past few years that the earlier you advertise, the more likely you are to get someone into the store and they’ll buy something they won’t buy somewhere else. The actual shopping patterns haven’t proven that.”
Passikoff believes that earlier doesn’t really matter because most consumers wait until the very end of the season when they believe they'll get the best deals.
And therein lies the takeaway: If you want the best results on your holiday promotions, focus on the quality of your promotion, not the timeliness of it.
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