'Up' Your Holiday Sales

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 20, 2009
How much longer will marketers accept "just a little down" as the new "up?" While many of us understand why this maxim provided comfort in the emerging days of the recession, we can't lose sight that "up" is good and any amount of "down" is bad. Perhaps a better question for all of us to consider is "how do we achieve 'up'?"

For many retailers and the companies whose goods they are selling, December can make or break the year from a profitability perspective. That's why the Friday after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, an indicator of when profitability begins. In fact, the National Retail Federation recently identified six categories -- clothing/accessories stores, department stores, discount stores, jewelry stores, sporting goods/book/hobby/ music stores and electronics/appliance stores -- where holiday shopping represents nearly a quarter of their annual sales.

We are at the outset of the $440 billion holiday shopping period, a time when retail sales are three and a half times greater than all of the other key sales periods combined. Organizations have published their predictions for this year; ranging from slightly down (National Retail Federation), to flat (Deloitte), to slightly up (International Council of Shopping Centers). In this environment, the key will be capturing competitive share if one is to be any amount of "up." It's also important to note that these projections relate to top line sales and not for the profitability of these sales, the true "up."



This will be our second holiday season in the economic downturn. While unemployment remains high and other indicators leave much to be desired, consumer confidence is higher than it was a year ago (still not great but still better), the Dow Jones Index is once again over 10,000 and Americans still have $3.4 trillion in cash, according to the October report of the Investment Company Institute. The major difference from 2008 is that marketers were able to plan for this year.

As you plan your holiday communications support program, consider these five factors to help "up" your sales results:

1. Targeting should reflect this year's sales opportunity and may be different than those in the past. Product mix will be different as retailers cut back on having excessive inventory on hand. Spending from men, especially young men, will hold up better this holiday season than spending from females.

2. The retail war will happen in December. While this has also been true in the past (only 10% of adults think that the Christmas shopping period starts on Black Friday), shopping will happen later this year as consumers look for deals and value. Recent sales reports for the 2009 Back to School period showed that shopping occurred later this year and it should also be noted that young men tend to shop later in December as well.

3. Time your message delivery to impact key sales dates. There are two fewer weekend sales days during this year's holiday period (16 weekend days vs. 14 weekend days in 2008). For many retailers, there are three other key peak sales dates this year:

Dec. 15: a Tuesday, is the last payday before Christmas. With consumers concerned about excessive use of credit, this day becomes even more important.

Dec. 19: is the last Saturday before Christmas. If consumers shop later, this day will see even higher volume sales than in the past.

Dec. 23: is the last full shopping day before Christmas.

4. Use a proven medium with broad reach, immediacy and creative impact. Studies conducted over the past year by The Advertising Research Federation, ZenithOptimedia and the Association of National Advertisers, to name just a few, demonstrate television's proven effectiveness as a leader in generating positive results.

5. Develop December specific media plans that recognize media usage patterns, fresh content and the impact of technology. For example, it's an industry myth that television usage plummets during December. In fact, television HUT levels remain relatively flat throughout the month.

Marketers need the best vehicles during the holiday period, yet network repeats comprise nearly 40% of the December primetime schedule; a clear cause of the ratings declines vs. November Sweeps (an anachronism given the widespread use of local People Meter data.) Alternatives, such as syndication, that continue to air first run programming and the best of off-net during December have ratings that remain consistent throughout the holiday sales period.

With almost 40% of Adults 18-49 having a DVR, time shifting and commercial avoidance are a way of life. Retailers need to run messages that are delivered to viewers before the sales event. Nielsen data indicates that half of prime dramas are time shifted; if the message is delayed until after the sales event, it is of little use.

"Up" is an objective that can be achieved during this year's holiday period. While it won't be easy with sales projected to be equal to last year (and last year's sales weren't great), careful execution of December specific media plans can be a key to gaining a competitive advantage and achieving success.

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