Should Marketers Forget the Holiday Shopping Season?

Should Marketers Forget the Holiday Shopping Season?

It’s time for retailers to cut their dependence on holiday season shopping, and take advantage of opportunities to generate demand over a more sustained period of time.

When was the last time you stood in a pre-dawn line at a Black Friday doorbuster sale? If it was within the past years, you’re actually part of a dwindling minority of shoppers. Increasingly, customers are in shopping mode all the time, and deals that are restricted to a limited timeframe or buying mode are only a source of frustration.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, brand-building expert Denise Lee Yohn makes the argument that retailers are over-dependent on the holiday shopping season, as the retail landscape has shifted seismically in the past decade. “It no longer makes sense to rely on disproportionate revenue from the holiday season to make up for the softness in sales during the rest of the year,” she argues.

Accommodate the way people shop today

So what does this mean for marketers? Yohn suggests that it’s time for brands to rethink how they promote themselves during the holidays and beyond, with marketing dollars better spent accommodating the ways people shop now.

“Customers don’t want retailers to dictate their shopping schedule,” says Yohn. Shoppers at every price point are becoming more accustomed to buying whenever the interest strikes them. They often shop from their mobile devices or in the stores during post-season sales, rather than at times traditionally associated with peak retail activity.

In their book Absolute Value, Itamar Simonsen and Emanuel Rosen posit the idea that people are now engaging in what they call “couch tracking,” or “keeping track of what they learn about products from reviews, friends, and news items on an ongoing basis.” This means that customers are likely to have well-formed preferences long before they have a specific plan to purchase. “Therefore,” concludes Yohn, “it doesn’t make sense for retailers to try to influence product or brand decisions only during discrete windows of time.”

In case you need further convincing, Yohn also points out that a disproportionate emphasis on the holiday season isn’t to a retailer’s best advantage even from a logistic perspective. “The large fluctuations in demand wreak havoc on supply chain, labor management, and accounting.”

It’s time for retailers to cut their dependence on holiday season shopping, and take advantage of opportunities to generate demand over a more sustained period of time. Millennials and other shoppers are increasingly choosing to spend discretionary dollars on experiences like recreation, travel, and eating out, rather than on products like clothing and shoes. To keep pace, Yohn suggests that “a year-round approach would likely help retailers compete with restaurants and other experiences which people seek out throughout the year.”

How to better distribute your marketing dollars

Here are three key takeaways for retailers looking to put marketing dollars to better use:

1) Encourage year-round “self-gifting”

Millennials are nearly as likely to buy something for themselves as someone else during the holiday season. Encouraging this tendency year-round could lead to more consistent purchasing rather than waiting for a holiday occasion.

2) Delay holiday-specific messaging

This one may seem counter-intuitive, but not having a holiday-specific message during fall months will actually help you capture wider demand. You also buck the trend of creating deal-fatigue, as shoppers quickly get weary of holiday promotions that start in October.

3) Make technology your friend

Says Yohn, “The technology and analytics now exist for retailers to better predict what people want and when they want it, so they should use these capabilities to move away from the traditional seasonal approach.”

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