by Dwight D. Hill, McMillan Doolittle LLP
The holidays are rapidly approaching, the Christmas trim boutiques have been up for weeks, and the cottage industry of holiday sales predictions is well in gear. Numbers this year are coming in at +4-5% depending on your source – certainly optimistic compared to last year. Will this holiday season be frightful or delightful for retailers? It's anyone's guess, but I offer a list of facts retailers need to be aware of going into Holiday 2014.
1. Get the turkey on the table early. Better start planning Thanksgiving "lunch" versus "dinner" going forward – if you aren't already planning to open your stores on Thanksgiving Day, you soon will be. While many naysayers will trumpet the sanctity of the holiday has been lost, the shopper has proven over the past two years they have no problem spending Thanksgiving evening on a mad dash for deals. We all know the retail institutions of "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" are rapidly vanishing into an endless caldron of promotions that blur the entire holiday season. Yet shoppers enjoy the thrill of this kick-start to the holiday season. Thus, the Thanksgiving afternoon/evening openings are here to stay and the number of retailers participating will continue to grow.
2. We're in for another short holiday season. Holiday 2013 was one of the shortest on record, at least since 2002 with 26 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. To make matters worse, Mother Nature provided her own gift in the form of two major winter storms that socked in much of the Midwest and Northeast during two key shopping weekends. As a result, retailers panicked and it turned out to be one of the most promotional on record – shoppers were treated to 30%, 40%, or even 50% off their entire purchases during the last 12 or so shopping days before Christmas – not to mention clearance events that were moved up into the holiday period. It was the shopper's paradise!
Now, another holiday season is upon us and, in case you've not checked your calendar, we're in for a repeat – this year there are 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, giving retailers only one more day! Thus, we are likely in for another wild ride as retailers attempt to grab as much of the shopper's wallet as possible through an almost never-ending sea of promotions.
3. The evolution of the store will continue – and likely be more pronounced over the holidays. Store traffic declined as the e-commerce growth continued over Holiday 2013, yet shoppers tell us they still like to visit malls and stores – especially the millennial. In addition, the mobile device continues to be the shopping tool of choice as shoppers seek out product and pricing information, store locations, and comparison shop. The takeaway? Make sure your mobile customer experience is one of simplicity and ease. Your customer will convert more frequently if the shopping experience is convenient for them versus complicated and confusing.
Will we see the positive sales increases the retail sages are predicting? It's anyone's guess, but as long as the consumer feels increasingly confident, this season certainly promises to be an interesting ride!
Dwight D. Hill, whose background includes leadership roles with Neiman Marcus and Deloitte LLP, is Partner, McMillan Doolittle LLP. Dwight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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