Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Should Retailers Tone Down the Christmas Cheer to Boost Holiday Sales?

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.

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 giftIn 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.

As a consumer, are you put off by excessive holiday decorations and music? Does it bother you when retailers go at length to capitalize on the season, or do you enjoy the overall presentation? You know the drill – sound off below!

Image Credit: nikoretro.


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  1. amy

    That video you included is absolutely crazy! I know the anchor woman is being sarcastic about getting prepared for Christmas in September (I think…?), but that seems to be the general consensus of retailers I shop at. They pull out merch for the “next big thing” about 3 months earlier than they really need to. School supply sales in July? Halloween in August? Christmas in September?? GAH!!! It drives me nuts!! I like shopping for seasonal stuff in the right season, not when it’s first available.

    I’ve already O.D’d on Christmas music because every store I go into has it blasting. It’s annoying and I do try to get what I need and get out, no “perusing” for me. Great post, Joe! I’ll be curious to read what everyone else has to say about his topic.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Yeah, that video is pretty nuts. “Only 100 shopping days ’til Christmas.” Ridiculous!

      Stores definitely tend to go a little nuts over upcoming holidays, and it’s getting earlier and earlier each year. I enjoy Christmas music and all (I’d even go as far as to say that I’m “a fan”), but I don’t like being bombarded with it over the course of weeks and months.

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    I really enjoy Christmas, but I agree that it’s just getting too early with the Christmas music and decorations. I don’t want to hear “Jingle Bells” in October. So it only makes sense that the more you try and overload Christmas, the more that people would resist and try to get out of stores faster.

    Maybe more stores could try the Macy’s approach and just decorate one corner of their store? That way you could circumnavigate that section while you buy your Halloween candy or Thanksgiving dinner fixings.

    Before we know it, it’s going to be Christmas in July…for real.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “Christmas in July” is right around the corner — that’s for sure.

      And yes, retailers could learn a thing or two from Macy’s. If Christmas is going to be around in September or October, I at least want that section of the store to be OPTIONAL — not invasive.

  3. Jill Tooley

    Choosing how much holiday cheer I want? What a noble concept! I’m not a scrooge by any means, but it does get quite overwhelming when Christmas is shoved in my face from September until January. Like Lewis Black said…”what a glutton of a holiday!”

    I’d have to say that early holiday music is the most annoying detail about this whole thing. When I shop at a store in the beginning of November, I don’t want to hear the same 4 Christmas songs blaring over and over. (I swear, if I have to listen to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” one more time, I’m going to go psycho). Christmas music should “go public” in December, as far as I’m concerned!

    Great post, Joe! I’m interested to see which stance retailers will take on this in the future! 🙂

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Thanks, Jill.

      Being able to choose our level of engagement in the holiday season when shopping would certainly be preferable to being overwhelmed by it everywhere we go. The duration and decorative excess of “Christmastime” is reaching critical mass, and I’m surprised more folks aren’t speaking out about it. This is a serious problem, people!

      Well, maybe not THAT serious. But seriously annoying nonetheless.

  4. JPorretto

    I think Christmas suffers from the whole “TL;DR” syndrome at this point, except that we still HAVE to “R.” All the enthusiasm and energy is spent before you even get to the most important stuff, but yet we’re still supposed to feel all this seasonal joy and be merry. Sorry, but my merry gave way to scrooge in early December. So, Happy holidays. Here’s some presents ‘n’ junk. Please lets get to the new year already.

  5. Jen

    I enjoy seeing Christmas Decor at the end of November after Thanksgiving…I don’t enjoy seeing it before Halloween. It’s not cool. Nothing ruins my Christmas spirit more than overindulgence. I don’t even put decorations up in my apartment until the week of Christmas. I just get too much of it everywhere else. Nice post Joe, you make very valid points in this blog!

  6. Amanda

    Great post Joe! I love that the news did a segment on this–and that people are really taking notice that September is too early for Christmas. Mid November is when I start preparing for Christmas for my family and is when I start playing Christmas music in my office and at home. But I don’t mind at all that the stores put things out earlier–I think anytime in October is a good range for the stores. People do need time to plan their purchases and budgets, and I think putting it all out in October is enough time. If they waited until December, the lines and crowds would be nuts! I love being able to buy Christmas gifts and such earlier than later. =)

  7. Amanda

    I think some of the “problem” with Christmas coming out too early these days is that lots of people see Halloween and Thanksgiving as one day only celebrations, while Christmas is a whole season. That’s the way I think of it anyway, and I think many others do too. It takes more preparation and decorations–at least in my house–to get ready for Christmas. But still, September is too early. I wonder with people getting tired of the early decor and such, if it will slow down, or if it will stay that early, and possibly get earlier…. Maybe when we’re all grandparents–we can tell our grandkids, “Back in my day Christmas was only 3 months long. Now you kids get 6 months to prepare. You should have seen how hard it was to get things ready in only 3 months.” LOL 😉

  8. Eric

    Probably helps that I don’t have a Facebook, nor do I watch a lot of television, so I’m not being slammed with reminders to get my holiday shopping done every 5 milliseconds. I probably feel more in the Christmas spirit, mostly because 1.) I watch holiday movies, but on my own terms and timing, and 2.) most my shopping was done online so there wasn’t ever any fatigue from checkout lines or stoplight traffic. It’s your holiday, and celebrate it how you’d like to, and when you’d like to: if you let Black Friday sales and pre-Thanksgiving television movies arbitrate your holiday, naturally, you’re going to burn out long before Christmas Day.

    And, one more thing…ONLY 100 SHOPPING DAYS LEFT?!?! That’s almost a third of a year. Come on, people. The fact that statements like this actually give some folks the impulse to shop, because they feel like they’re running out of time, baffles me.

  9. brent

    I enjoy it a lot. I know i don’t have to buy things if i don’t want to. I enjoy the feeling that the christmas season is here in september. in the phillipines it starts that early and that is not commercial. i think 4 months is a nice time period to enjoy christmas atmosphere. 8 months, january through august, is long enough to wait to get christmas back.

  10. Jana Quinn

    I love Christmas, and it’s never too early (or late) to celebrate it. I like Amy’s point, though; Christmas is more of a “season” while Halloween and Thanksgiving are one day celebrations. Plus, the earlier people start shopping, the more time they can buy little add-ons closer to the holiday, because their real shopping is done, but they’re still being bombarded with marketing and last minute deals.

    Besides being a major religious holiday, Christmas invokes all sorts of warm family and charity feelings on the secular level. It’s easier to ask people to donate to causes when they have mental images of Tiny Tim’s little crutch propped up against the wall, and it’s harder to resist a child’s lengthy wish list when you’re picturing their smile on Christmas morning. There’s some cultural and emotional manipulation to be had for sure, and companies are all too ready to take advantage of it.

    That’s not to say it’s evil for them to put up snowmen and ornaments; with online competition fiercer than ever (I did all of my Black Friday shopping in my pajamas from my bed), brick and mortar stores need to use every tool at their disposal. One advantage that brick and mortar stores have is their ability to take advantage of immediate gratification (Overnight shipping will never compete with walking out of the store with it in your hand, especially for procrastinators.) and the environment: the sounds and smells of Christmas that a web page could never recreate.

    Only 78 shopping days left!

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