If you run a business and count on Christmas sales to make your year; yes, I am talking to you.
There’s an old saying that states “Shoot while the ducks are flying”. It has been used by media salespeople in the past (probably the far distant past) to encourage retailers to advertise when consumers our poised to spend the most; meaning sometime in the next 50 days. For better or worse, decades of holiday “push” has actually succeeded in getting American consumers to start their holiday shopping earlier and earlier. Retail statistics indicate that as many as 60% of us have already started our Christmas shopping and that by sundown on Black Friday a third of us will be completely done. And be utterly exhausted.
For the most part locally owned retailers have complained about this early holiday push and local media outlets — ourselves included — have played along. I hear it all the time: “I was in (fill in the blank with name of chain store) two weeks before Halloween and they already had three rows of Christmas lights and holiday paraphernalia: that’s ridiculous!!” With all due respect Ms. And Mr. Local Retailer, it’s long past time to get over it. Shoppers — including those here in central Missouri — started their holiday shopping months ago. Really. Maybe not those locals that come into your store; but certainly those that you haven’t seen in a while. Instead of shooting while the ducks are flying you continue to wait until well after the ducks have begun their initial descent and already have their seat backs and tray tables locked and in their full and upright position. Quite simply, when you wait to market your business until the week of Thanksgiving you acquiesce to spending one advertising dollar to attract a remaining 60 cents in consumer spending. This does not make for a great marketing ROI.
You’ve had a suspicion all along that this is true because you also rely on tourism revenue and way back in June customers (of the tourist persuasion) started walking up to the cash register with their arms full saying “this gift is for my sister” and “this is the best Christmas gift ever; mom will love it”. It’s just not logical to think that tourists do holiday shopping early but our neighbors that live in town wait until after Thanksgiving. Everyone – okay, almost everyone – has already bought some Christmas gifts.
I know what you’re thinking. “Isn’t it self-serving for a media company with an advertising sales staff to tell us that we ought to start Christmas advertising earlier?” Well, yes. And no. Okay, no – and that’s my final answer. For weeks we’ve been inserting into our paper preprinted fliers from Menards, CVS and Kohls that all contained “Shop Early” gift items. We’ve actually done you a disservice by allowing you to wait and wait and wait some more. No more.
Page 2 of 2 - I get that your advertising budget is finite and that the economy is not as robust as we all hoped it would be. But it is what it is. The only questions is: “How are you going to make this as successful a holiday shopping season as your store has ever seen?” Our advice is to look to the ducks; they’re already soaring high.
John Pfeifer is Vice-President of Sales Development and Training for the Community Division of GateHouse Media Inc. He has a journalism and advanced business degrees and has spent his entire career in the media industry; selling, coaching, managing, writing and shopping locally.