A 3 D holiday season

I’ve spent the last month or so up to my armpits in tinsel, as I’ve analysed the ‘holiday season’ in Australia and right around the world (from November through to January).

I wanted to know what worked, what didn’t, and what I could learn as retailers start to prepare again for a trading time that can account for up to 60 per cent of sales and 80 per cent of profitability.

One of the fascinating things I learned was that quite possibly the biggest holiday event in the world, actually has nothing to do with a Western framework of the silly season. It’s ‘Singles Day’ in China – the 11th of November (11/11) – a huge celebration for single people where gifts are exchanged.

Last year, shoppers spent US$5.75 billion in one day on one group of websites, Alibaba. That’s twice what was spent as part of Cyber Monday overall in the US (the online shopping day after Thanksgiving).

Apart from this revelation, I summed up the holiday selling season in my mind as the 3 D’s: discounting, digital, and doing it differently.

Particularly in mature markets, discounting was rife. As Time Magazine put it so eloquently, “40 per cent Off? Meh”.

Time went on to quote retail strategist, Alison Jatlow Levy, who said; “the deal is not so special anymore. The deal has become the norm. And if the deal is the norm… it actually just trains the consumer to never buy at full price”.

The days of retailers making full margin in the lead up to significant holidays is gone. As we well know, in Australia shop windows were awash in sale signs in November and December, just like the rest of the year.

If discounting was prevalent, digital was ubiquitous. If you didn’t have a mobile enabled website, app, Pinterest-powered online store and click and collect offer, you weren’t in the race. This was the season where an online strategy was not a nice to have, but a must have. The best of the best executed it with military precision.

The third D was the one that separated the great from the merely good. Those retailers and brands doing it differently through the holiday season were rewarded with a disproportionate amount of attention, which more often than not turned into sales.

Cases in point from overseas included Harvey Nichols enjoying a bumper Christmas with its irreverent ‘Sorry I spent it on myself’ campaign, and Westjet with the inspired ‘Live Gifting’ viral video which attracted 35 million hits.

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I’d also include Aldi in Australia in that list of stand out campaigns.

And next holiday season? On my wishlist is less discounting and less digital for digital’s sake (it needs to be integrated and invisible), and for both shoppers and retailers, a lot more visible difference.

Jon Bird is chairman of specialist retail and shopper marketing agency, IdeaWorks, and Octomedia, publisher of Inside Retail and the new Inside Shopper. Email: [email protected] Blog: www.newretailblog.com Twitter: @thetweetailer

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