Most folks don’t mind Christmas. Many of us downright love it. Because really, what’s not to love? From the festive colors and enticing aromas to the infectious spirit of giving in the air, the holiday season is – from an idealistic standpoint – the most positive three months of the year.

And that’s sort of the problem: the “three months” part. It gets to be a little much. Retailers might want to tone down all this cheer, and it might just be a way to boost sales.

See, not everyone likes having their holiday cheer imposed on them, and that imposition is something we’re starting to see more and more each year.

But it’s not just that the holiday season is showing up earlier each year; it’s that it’s becoming more exaggerated as well, with music and decorations seemingly devouring retail stores whole.

At a certain point, even the most good-natured of holiday shoppers get fed up with festivities.

christmas shopping present gift

In a recent interview with Marketing Daily, Nancy Puccinelli, a fellow at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, discusses how retailers’ efforts to exert holiday cheer can actually end up upsetting consumers. Apparently, “holly-jolly associates, relentless music, and dazzling decorations make people less willing to purchase.”

Go figure.

The conventional wisdom in retail seems to be that the holiday season is an opportunity to capitalize on the average person’s proclivity for the Christmas spirit. Outlets large and small – from the established brand-name superstores down to the quaintest family-owned shops – are eager to indulge shoppers with aisles full of festive displays and intercoms full of classic Christmas music.

Rarely, however, do retailers stop to ask themselves whether they’re pushing the decorative envelope and effectively desensitizing consumers.

Puccinelli claims that moderation is a key factor in any retail outlet’s success during the holiday season. She asserts:

“Retailers invest considerable sums in the hope of making consumers feel good in their stores, and therefore inclined to spend more. But, actually, it is shortsighted to generalize about consumers and how they might behave when surrounded by enforced holiday cheer. We know from studies of consumer behavior that moderation in festive decor leads consumers to spend more and to like the retailer more.”

But how can stores go about dialing back their overindulgent décor and still convey their holiday spirit to shoppers?

Well, they can start by learning a thing or two from established companies like Macy’s or Marks & Spencer, whose approach to holiday cheer is somewhat less intrusive.

Says Puccinelli:

“Macy’s is famous for its Santalands, which are often on upper floors, giving shoppers the ability to opt out. Macy’s then uses a lighter touch elsewhere in the store. A similarly effective strategy is that of UK retailer Marks and Spencer. The website has a Christmas tab, rather than making the landing page all about the holidays. As a result, consumers coming to the website can choose how much holiday cheer they want.”

Ultimately, no retailer wants to upset the customers. If consumer behavior studies are indicating that it’s more important during the holiday season to exercise restraint than to overdo it with the decorations, then major chains (as well as minor ones) would do well to take notice and act accordingly.

We’ll see if they heed the advice by Christmas 2012.

Image Credit: nikoretro.

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