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The 61 Days of Christmas

This week, I noticed something scary happening (and yes, Halloween is already over).  Retail stores have exploded with wrapping paper, bows and garlands.  Radio ads proclaim “Outdoor light sale, get a jump on your decorating!”  And two days ago, one of my social media acquaintances proudly boasted that their Christmas presents were bought, wrapped and already placed underneath the decorated Christmas tree.

It was November 4th.

For those that are bothered by this, it’s easy enough to ignore the premature festivity.  But there is one aspect that is harder to tune out, and you can bet it will be starting soon, if it hasn’t already.

The Christmas music.

Some love it.  Some hate it.  Marketing wisdom tells us that it puts shoppers in the “right frame of mind”, and encourages them to buy more.  It’s hard to argue with this business strategy and its bottom-line results (see last year’s post Deck the Malls for an overview).

For this reason, I’ve been waiting for someone to take Christmas music to the next level.  Now that the holiday season officially runs from November to January, the next logical step is to write a new carol that reflects our modern reality.  The “61 days of Christmas” seems like an appropriate title.  By my calculations, it would take several days of continuous play to reach the end, and it could be placed on an endless loop in retail stores.  And think of the possibilities for product advertising!  “On the 49th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a Windows 8 Surface Tablet!”  It could be changed up every year to reflect the hottest products.

Then, to my relief, I came across a news article that dissuaded my fears of a 24/7-carol-o-thon.  This week, Shoppers Drug Mart found itself in hot water after pumping out the Christmas tunes on November 1st.  Customers complained that the pharmacy giant had overstepped the unwritten rule of “No Christmas before Remembrance Day” and the soundtrack was yanked “until further notice”.  I skimmed through the 100+ comments on the article and the consensus was overwhelming:  “No Christmas before December 1st please”.

Will retailers hear the message?  Or will it be lost in the chorus of “fa la la la la-s” and register “cha-chings”?

Do you think the Christmas hype starts too early?  Or should retailers use every sales tool at their disposal?

Many (un)Happy Returns

I hope that all of you survived the Christmas season and that Santa was good to you.

Were you one of the unlucky ones whose newest thing-a-ma-bob didn’t work as advertised?  Maybe it was hurtled a little too vigorously down the chimney, or maybe the assembly line elf was asleep at the switch.  Regardless, I’m sure it was frustrating as you agonized in the customer service line waiting to return that defective product.

If that did happen to you, my sympathies.  But, as it turns out, there might not have been anything wrong with it after all.

Before the break, I read an interesting article on the ‘Retail Info System News’ website: “Consumer Electronics Returns Costs $16.7B Called Unsustainable”.  You can find the original article here: http://goo.gl/Nd3Ub

This article discusses a study by Accenture which examined the high cost of returning consumer electronics.  This includes receiving, diagnosing, repairing, re-packaging, shipping, then eventually re-selling.  They found it amounts to $16.7 billion dollars a year.

That’s right.  $16.7 billion.

Is this just a cost of doing business?  Some would say so.  But here’s the kicker.  68% of ‘defective’ product returns, when investigated, are deemed to have ‘No Trouble Found’.  Only 5% of returned products are truly defective.

So what does this mean for the retail industry?  It seems that a majority of returns are related to poor customer education.  Here’s a great opportunity.  Imagine implementing an in-store program that helps customers understand, setup, use and optimize the products they purchase.  What a great way to improve the customer experience and turn customers into repeat, happy customers.

And, more importantly, save money.

According to Accenture “Reducing the number of NTF customer returns by just one percent would translate to roughly a 4% cut in return/repair costs. For a typical manufacturer, that represents approximately $21 million in annual savings; for a large retailer, about $16 million.”

Now that’s a kind of return we can all appreciate.

How do product returns affect your business?  Do you have any programs in place to curb the amount of unnecessary returns?

Deck the Malls

I saw the first signs on November 1st.  I was at the grocery store, hunting for discounted Halloween candy when I saw the glitter.  And then sparkles.  And a tube of shiny coloured paper.  Disbelief took hold.  There was no way….was it possible…..were the Christmas products on the shelves already?!  I still had a jack o’lantern on my front porch.  I hadn’t even bought my Remembrance Day poppy yet. How was I supposed to get into the holiday spirit?

There used to be a very clear start to the holiday shopping rush.  The day after American Thanksgiving meant the unofficial countdown to Christmas was on.  When the stores opened on Black Friday there would be fancy decorations everywhere the eye could see, and the holiday muzak would start playing through the mall on a 24/7 loop.  Parking lots and stores would get crowded and chaotic, and the line-up to visit Santa would wind around fake reindeer and big red SALE signs.  But the last few years have seen a definite shift in the retail market in regards to when the season starts.  More and more, store owners are trying to speed up the clock and get their customers looking to the end of the year.  Forget Black Friday – several big-name American retailers started their seasonal sales in July!

There is sound logic behind the push towards a longer shopping season.  Consumers have less money to spend, and retailers are fighting each other for every last penny.  Impulse shopping is at an all-time low, and more consumers are focused on budgeting and necessity spending than ever before.  Retailers need to work hard to make shoppers open their wallets.  Malls and big-box retailers are being hit especially hard in recent years, with increases in local and online shopping affecting the amount of people who walk through the mall to work through their Christmas list.  Spreading the Christmas shopping season over several months will allow shoppers to spread their spending out, thus spending more cash in the process.  Stores are then able to spread their costs out over a greater period of time, which allows for more steady revenue over an extended period. It’s just good business sense.

As a retailer, when do you start planning for the Christmas shopping season? Is it possible to push holiday sales too early, or do you need every day possible to get the most bang for your marketing buck?

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