Peak Pumpkin Spice

The National Retail Federation reports Americans will spend $7.4 billion on Halloween costumes, candy and decorations in 2014, a bit up from 2013.  As is the case with retail holiday trends in general, Halloween shopping is starting earlier and earlier.  According to a survey done by NRF, over 35% began shopping for Halloween before Oct. 1, and another 43% in the first few weeks of October. 

Everything is happening earlier. While the iPhone is a trend in itself, the real pulse of consumer holiday sentiment starts with  Starbucks’ sale of pumpkin spice lattes, which this year began in September.    Retailers call this “season creep”: pumpkin spice in September, Halloween costumes right after Labor Day, and even snowmen and Christmas tree ornaments in October. With winter holidays dwarfing all other holidays, accounting for over 20% of annual retail sales and an average spend of $720 per consumer, this is the time you’ve been optimizing for throughout the year.  



I don’t often reflect on my personal purchase patterns in publications, but I did purchase a pumpkin to sit on my porch the first week of October, only to find it rotting by the 20 th-- which doubled my annual pumpkin spend.  That’s what I get for the grocery store impulse purchase vs. the annual pumpkin patch run.   What ‘s more unique is that my youngest had her pumpkin design already picked out on the kitchen table, two weeks ago.  

We are consumed by holidays, and seem to be on a perpetual four-month run of promotions. What happens when you are overexposed to specials and promotions? Yes, they become less special, and response diminishes.

Unfortunately the problem with building products and promotions around what the customers says they want, is that  those needs have often changed by the time you address the trend.   So, on Oct. 20, what information is can you actually take advantage of  tomorrow?   

-- Consumers are transient in their shopping. So design for when they are actually on-the run.    Time of day and mobile optimization will be key.

-- While inundated with promotions, consumers will still react favorably to good ideas. Be creative, bring value and don’t overstimulate through subject line promotional.  You have a window to create value in the content before the offer window desensitizes the consumer.  Think of it in terms of shop vs. buy.  While you still covet the “buy,” shopping is really the experience -- and consumers don’t just shop through promotions, they shop through ideas and their networks.

-- Maximize social through Facebook (promote, advertise), but don’t forget about Pinterest as the breakout social network.   You just can’t deny the sheer reach and power of these networks to a brand and consumer.  This is the time to maximize earned and owned media. 

Is this the year to overcompensate your most valuable customers?   Is it the year to take that coveted audience that is the most responsive and treat them to a unique online experience early in the season? While one answer won’t fit for everyone, consider “buy one, give one free” and other advocacy-driven promotions.   You must condition the behavior you seek.   With that said, develop new behaviors and stop defaulting to deep discounts unless you can create a network effect off  that purchase.     Think of the customer as a connector, influencer and advocate -- in that order -- and force your communications to match the intent.

Just remember not to give up what you want most for what you want NOW.

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