Why don’t retailers concentrate more on selling the Christmas spirit?

Photo: RetailWire
Sep 21, 2018

You’ve heard it before. Successful physical retailing isn’t just about finding the right products at the right prices in stores anymore, it’s also about experiences. Consumers, particularly those who are young, choose to shop in stores that provide experiences that delight them. These same consumers also spend more on purchasing experiences rather than an item off a store’s racks or shelves. Yes, experiences are said to drive traffic and sales, and a new report suggests that may be even more true during the Christmas selling season.

A survey of more than 2,500 consumers by Bazaarvoice looked at what factors go into consumer shopping decisions during the holidays, including when and where they shop and what they choose to buy. To probably no one’s surprise, “unique experiences” emerged as a key factor in the why behind all of the above.

While 59 percent of all shoppers choose high-profile days such as Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday or the last Saturday before Christmas to purchase gifts, special deals are not the only factor as to why consumers shop. Twenty-five percent point to family tradition as why they head out, while 35 percent said they do so “to get into the holiday spirit.”

As to why consumers would head out to a packed shopping center or store rather than stay home and order gifts from the comfort of their couch, 42 percent said they enjoy the “festive ambience” of the experience. Thirty-two percent consider activities such as visiting Santa Claus or ice skating as an important element of the holiday shopping experience.

The vast majority of gifts given out this year (90 percent) will be a physical product, but nearly one-third of shoppers will make purchases tied to experiences, including those that are related to crafts (47 percent), foodie experiences (45 percent) or travel (41 percent).

“Holiday shopping is unique; understanding the preferences, traditions and trends that shape consumer behavior and decision-making is critical to a successful holiday season,” said Sara Spivey, Chief Marketing Officer at Bazaarvoice. “Brands and retailers that produce enticing experiences to inspire and connect with shoppers will stand out above the rest.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How effectively do retailers sell the Christmas spirit? Which do the best job? How can retailers improve experiences during the holidays?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Pop-up and temporary markets are becoming an important part of holiday retailing and provide an immersive experience."
"When it comes to retailers selling the Christmas spirit, I believe most have erred on the side of “quantity” versus “quality.”"
"If you want to have great Christmas spirit it starts with creating a great employee experience. This is a battle that independent retailers should be able to win."

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15 Comments on "Why don’t retailers concentrate more on selling the Christmas spirit?"

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Mark Ryski

There are plenty of examples of retailers who put on a great Christmas, including stalwarts like Macy’s. And while decorations and holiday music certainly add to the spirit, retailers should also focus on getting the little things right, like keeping their checkouts moving well and the shelves stocked. No amount of holiday cheer will make a stressed out, time starved holiday shopper feel better if they have to wait in inordinately long lines or the store experiences stock-outs of the things s/he wants most.

Charles Dimov

Selling the Christmas spirit is a great way for retailers to focus on the experiential part of in-store shopping. Too often the holiday season becomes frantic. That is seen in spades in shopping malls and stores. Yes this is great for the industry — but this is also a golden opportunity. The retailer that captures the excitement, but despite the frantic pace still conveys that Christmas spirit of being helpful, nice, polite, attentive — might have an Ace up their sleeve.

How to improve: Train your staff about this last sentence. Despite the craziness, be calm and helpful with a polite voice — even when the customers are not. A small point, but it can make a big difference.

Neil Saunders

I think most retailers put in at least some effort to creating a holiday spirit. What’s critical is ensuring that customer service remains on point in a very busy and potentially stressful time. If you get that wrong, you undo any good from nice decoration and jolly music.

The most laughable approach to the holidays I have noticed comes from Sears. Most stores seem to have been assigned five or so long red pieces of cloth which they hang from the ceiling. It’s a case of better not to bother than embarrass yourself!

Dave Bruno

When it comes to retailers selling the Christmas spirit, I believe most have erred on the side of “quantity” versus “quality.” Today is September 21, and already many have Christmas assortments in their stores. Holiday soundtracks serenading us in the aisles can’t be far behind. I think we would be better off if we focused instead on creating meaningful holiday-themed experiences inside our stores. Just as bringing kids to see Santa in Macy’s became a tradition 75 years ago, I think stores today should look to create modern experiences that can also become family traditions. Think hands-on Christmas cookie classes, gift wrapping classes, Christmas sweater knitting classes, tree ornament or wreath workshops, etc. Give people a reason to come to the store by giving them the experiences they crave.

Ralph Jacobson

Maybe it’s because I was younger and enthralled with everything related to the holidays, however retailers that dove into the holiday spirit seemed to be more prevalent years ago. Maybe it was also because there were more department store chains — really the main retailers that did the holiday schtick. Although there still are political correctness challenges to which many try to adhere, I do believe there is a general opportunity for retailers of any format and category, including online presences, to dive deep into the holiday spirit and yuck it up with stressed shoppers.

Rich Kizer

Retailers jump start their Christmas season so early, with stores trimmed out, that by the time December 5th rolls around the focus is “sell” and “beat last year.” Retailers that touch customers’ hearts and minds will do wonderful events during the season that draw customers. We’ve seen Santa Claus, Santa Paws (pictures if pets on Santa’s lap), men’s nights and ladies’ events, angel trees to help those who are less fortunate — the list goes on and on. People will buy gifts during the season because they have to … but they will buy more when having a positive emotional experience. That should be the mission of every retailer.

Meaghan Brophy
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
3 years 24 days ago

When I think of successful holiday retail, of course, NYC comes to mind. As Mark said, Macy’s has always done a great job with their window display.

I think part of the hesitation for many retailers in completely immersing in the holiday spirit is needing to see a definitive ROI. Yes, many people flock to Macy’s windows to see their iconic display. But how many sales does that expensive display actually bring in? Pop-up and temporary markets are becoming an important part of holiday retailing and provide an immersive experience. I think that is a smart way for retailers to step their holiday spirit game up without overspending.

Bob Phibbs

Creating wonder is key in great retailing. I did a case study on a small retailer who spent months creating amazing holiday windows.

Creating holiday spirit requires a complete upending from the top to become brilliant on the basics of creating a human connection in stores. The old models of hiring, training and engaging shoppers is broken and retailers need to believe in employees, not Santa Claus, Wall Street or a hedge fund as savior. Magic starts with how you treat employees and on to shoppers. Anything else is just window dressing.

Georganne Bender

I am part of the 42 percent who enjoy the “festive ambience.” Visits to Santa, holiday windows, lunch at Chicago’s famous Walnut Room, ice skating, whatever you got, bring it on.

We encourage our retail clients to dive tastefully into the holiday spirit and pull out all the visual merchandising stops — celebrate the magic of Christmas. This does not, however, mean plastering the sales floor with cheap garland and HOLIDAY SALE signs the week before Halloween.

Give me the holiday decor and ambiance of an old fashioned department store. As for who does it best, I have to give it to Nordstrom. Not because of its choice of decor, but because the retailer refuses to set Christmas until after Thanksgiving. One holiday at a time. I love that.

Ray Riley

I believe reframing the question around “How many retailers sell in-store spirit?” full stop is a starting point. Many retailers need to rethink their entire store design, purpose, people, and visual merchandising strategy in the wake of what is truly an enhanced role for the physical store.

Having said that, Godiva for some reason comes to mind from my years of working in shopping centers. Nordstrom would be another for having a holiday tone, but not holiday sensory overwhelm during December.

Jennifer McDermott

I think the holidays are a time when most retailers really get involved in creating an atmosphere full of holiday cheer. Between the lights, music and decorations it’s hard to not feel that the holidays are upon us. I’m sure many will agree that the retailers that do the best jobs are department stores such as Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, who many actually associate with Christmas and the holiday season.

In order to improve experiences during the holidays, retailers must understand that customer services and ease of shopping should remain a core focus during the holiday shopping season. Christmas spirit can be ruined in an instant if a shopper walks into a store where questions aren’t answered or they encounter a not-so-spirited worker.

Gene Detroyer

Forgive my cynicism, but Christmas retailing today is the antithesis of the Christmas spirit. Start with decorations that come out way too early. Add to that the fact that Christmas music that I once enjoyed has become monotonous and annoying (how do the folks who work in the stores stand it?). You have staff that seems bothered by the onslaught of shoppers that don’t really know what to buy for a relative or friend. And of course there’s the shoppers themselves. One place to stay away from between Thanksgiving and New Years is Macy’s NYC. The mobs prevent any enjoyment.

I understand, one shouldn’t complain unless you propose a solution. I don’t have one to address the topic. But I have one to solve my displeasure with stores during the holiday season — shop online!

Mel Kleiman

How are retailers going to sell the Christmas spirit when most of them can not even deliver okay customer service all year long? Most Christmas marketing is directed at decorating the store and putting stuff on sale to bring the customer in.

If you want to have great Christmas spirit it starts with creating a great employee experience.

PS: this is a battle that independent retailers should be able to win.

Craig Sundstrom

Perhaps it’s just me, but something about the way the question is phrased answers itself: if you want to “sell” Christmas Spirit, then you don’t really have any.

Kenneth Leung

I think some retailers confuse selling the Xmas spirit with putting out Xmas merchandise. When you put Xmas tree and ornaments out now next to the Halloween display, I don’t think that’s the right approach (unless the point is to encourage people to put out Xmas trees as a Halloween decor ala Nightmare before Christmas movie). People will start getting the Christmas spirit after Thanksgiving. 🙂

"Pop-up and temporary markets are becoming an important part of holiday retailing and provide an immersive experience."
"When it comes to retailers selling the Christmas spirit, I believe most have erred on the side of “quantity” versus “quality.”"
"If you want to have great Christmas spirit it starts with creating a great employee experience. This is a battle that independent retailers should be able to win."

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