Putting Happy Back In Holidays: Can Retailers Beat Discount Fatigue?

If holiday prognostication feels old hat, it’s because it is. Seasonal headlines like “Black Friday is dead,” “Christmas decorations in October?” and “Omnichannel is everything” are as predictable as the dreaded Jingle Bell Rock. Marketing Daily asked Candace Corlett, president of WSL Retail, a New York-based consulting firm that uses data from its “How America Shops” surveys to spot trends, to weigh in on what — if anything — is really different for consumers this season. 

Q. Are there any real changes?

A. This year, Americans have time at the top of their list, and are constantly asking themselves, 'How fast can I get it done?’ We count our steps. We even power-watch TV now, in four-hour binges at a time. So retailers who still think in terms of how to get you to stay in the store are missing the point. They should be asking, 'How can we make these fewer hours of shopping more terrific for people?’



Q. What do consumers think is terrific?

A. People’s mantra is that they want things in their life to be de-stressed. That’s one of the main reason they are shifting so much if their shopping why online—it’s easier. But we also see a real shift from stuff to services, which has been true at higher income levels for several years, to broader audiences. There is so much competition to another sweater—people are giving (and asking for) sessions with a personal trainer, yoga classes, a night out at a craft brewery, a gift card to the movie theater. Smart retailers are joining in — I got a gift card for cooking classes at Sur La Table last year and it was great.

And we’re seeing stores take more steps to help people de-stress a little. Like maybe having a box of chocolates at the register, or small water bottles, because you know people are tired and thirsty and hungry. Having restrooms that are big enough to have small lounges so people can sit. Having shopping carts nearby, so if people buy more, it’s easy to get out to the parking lot.

Q. What else are people craving?

A. People are looking for more meaningful gifts, they’re seeking fun and being merry, and they’re looking for new traditions. I just saw a fun ad for Kentucky Fried Chicken, wrapped to look like bicycles and things–people like the idea that gifts don’t have to be traditional in anyway. Gifts that bring us together, like an easy way to have dinner together, mean more than gifts that overstuff our closets.

Q. So how does this affect stores? What can they do, since they are in the business of overstuffing our closets?

A. Well, it makes Black Friday even less relevant. “Whenever” is the new Black Friday. People want to cross things off their lists as soon as they can. But shopping that brings people together is really resonating–that’s what is driving the popularity of Small Business Saturday, for example. It can involve the whole family, your neighbors, your town, and the focus is on unique items and interesting merchandise to look at. It feels like an altruistic thing, helping small businesses, but it’s really about people enjoying getting together. It’s bigger than just shopping. And it’s not just small businesses. This year, Walmart is planning 20,000 holiday parties in its stores.

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