Too Much Santa Can Cause Shoppers To Become Scrooges

Alas!  I am not a scrooge! Research shows that I am not alone in my aversion to the overly celebratory holiday sentiments in stores – or even homes.  This year, the holiday season music and decorations started appearing in some stores before Thanksgiving.  And it is not just a bunch of Bah Humbug that justifies that this might not always be the best retail tactic. Nancy Pucinelli – associate fellow at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford – presented the study that overly celebratory stores and areas can actually cause people to buy less.

The real learnings stem from the idea of moderation and effectively smart “positioning” of the holiday within the larger retail environment.  Sometimes, the sugar is poured on too heavily and when that is mixed with the overly jolly staff, it is as nerve-wracking as stepping out of your car on an auto-dealer’s lot and bracing yourself for the onslaught of salespeople.  With tasteful selections of music and placement of decorations, the stress levels can be kept to a minimum by allowing people to effectively opt-out of the celebratory conventions if they would like to.

Pucinelli’s report has been carried by a number of outlets including The Telegraph, Business Week, and even Garden Center Magazine, over the past week with the most succinct capture of the findings presented in Q&A form on MediaPost.

To me, what it really comes down to is authenticity.  This doesn’t just have to do with the winter holiday season.  We are seeing the turn-off phenomenon throughout the year as retailers and brands work so hard to try to tie the nearest holiday bow around their offerings. With so many items tied unsuccessfully to Valentine’s Day, I actually embrace the holiday less and there are increasingly more holidays added to the list that retailers feel they should connect with.  One of the most nauseating instances was just recently when I saw an ad for beauty products tied to Veteran’s Day.  And authenticity surely doesn’t only relate to the holidays.

As humans, we have an innate ability to smell out when things are not authentic. As early as grade school, the kid who pretends to be something he is not is often kept at a distance. As adults, we sense when a brand is taking a wrong step because they present themselves in a light that is not true to their product – and we shy away from purchasing it. The same can be said for retail and the holidays. Puccinelli even singles out the US retailer, Macy’s, as an example of a company that handles the holidays well – and it’s not just because they effectively kick off the Christmas season in the States by ending their long-sponsored Thanksgiving Day Parade with Santa on his sleigh. Even with that core tie to the holiday, they provide the opportunity for shoppers to embrace the holiday without hammering them over the head if they don’t want.

With the seemingly ever-growing winter holiday season the hope is that many will take the learnings to heart and be authentic and smarter with the celebration.  The last thing we want as the global economy goes through its gyrations is yet another excuse for people to consume less.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go hang my holiday decorations…


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