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Exploiting consumers experience rather than creating it.

Yet again another Christmas shop opens. A video posted shows a large retailer in Ireland selling its Christmas decorations – in August.

Yet again, I sigh.

I sigh not because I have yet to pay upcoming fees for my children going back to school (and I don’t want to be hounded about Santa just yet) nor do I sigh because I am still in my positive summer mood (and don’t want to think about hats and scarves just yet!)

I sigh because I think it is just bad business planning.

Now before people think I am the ominous Grinch – please let me explain…my absolute favourite time of the year is Christmas. It is a huge part of our family tradition. Truthfully, the presents, the decorations and the continual flow of food are part of this, but they are only one small part of it:

The real reason I love Christmas is because of the anticipation, the excitement and the entire build up to it.

I know what Christmas means to me.

I know what it means to others. And after reading the comments posted after the video of this retail store was posted, I captured their thoughts too…

Meaning…

“It’s ALL about the money…The true meaning of Christmas is being RUINED by retail fat cats.”

“For us it would be after Thanksgiving, but I’m with you. One holiday at a time. Christmas is way too special to be overly commercialized.”

“Christmas should not be in the shops until 1st December. Children don’t understand the long wait. Appreciate and enjoy your life from now until December. Don’t wish your life away. Crazy stuff.”  

“It’s August, talk about ruining Christmas. Absolute disgrace that shops are displaying Christmas stock and the kids haven’t even gone back to school not to mention we haven’t had Halloween yet.”

 Fears…

“Too, too early, it’s only going to worry people and put them under pressure.”

Awareness…

“Inherent capitalism, Turning a week long holiday into a shopping frenzy for shallow and mindless zombies. Witness the result of humanity’s greed. We no longer live in the here and now. What a bunch of k******ds.”                             

Brands Broken…

“OH MY GOD, only talking about this yesterday …. “Wouldn’t have happened in Switzers back in my day I tells ya” 

Loss of Consumers…

“BT you are out of your mind!!! Insane and shocking! You are definitely losing some customer over this! Ridiculous!”

“Totally off putting, ridiculous to see this in August. I shall be avoiding the shop so, thanks for the heads up!”

Customer even jokingly see the trends…

“I must say I’m a bit disappointed. I was hoping to see the Easter Eggs 2019 😂”

You see, there really is such thing as bad advertising. Especially when consumers outwardly say that they are leaving.

I too am an aware consumer.

I am also an experienced business person. I understand what customer service is – and it has everything to do with the products and services I supply, plus the feelings they have when dealing with my and my company – and equally my understanding of my customers needs.

For me I think about my market both holistically and statistically – locally, and collectively as a nation. Learning about what my targeted customers tend to do in their daily life; the various levels of disposable income they may have; the factors impacting on decision making; the things in life they love – and hate; their values, beliefs – and most importantly their culture.

Culture is not just about where you are from or what religion you practice. It is also about how you were brought up.

It is not that hard to whittle this down, even though it mind sound so. It is all about listening, reading between the lines and responding. Profiling your ideal customer. So I thought I might ask you , my readers, to see if you could profile me and think of a little marketing strategy to make me want to buy in your shop this Christmas, based on my own little story…

“Every year I love the experience of watching my children counting down the last days for Santa to come. I get excited thinking about all my family getting together again. I love the searching online for the date when the Christmas grotto will open at the pet farm we have visited since my children were babies. I enjoy the organising of our annual family day trip in to Dublin city to see the window displays – a tradition given to me by my mom when she brought us in to see Cleary’s and Switzer’s windows as young children. I love watching my children’s faces on our annual horse and carriage ride around the city looking at all the lights, while all wrapped up in warm, woolly blankets. I love being in my element browsing around the shops to pick gifts, clothes and purchase our newest special ornament to add to our Christmas collection, which we then date underneath upon arriving home –  and proceed to decorate our tree with together, always on the 8th of December.

I feel warm inside thinking about my mum and brother coming to stay with us for the holidays. Knowing every Christmas Eve, myself my mum and my girls walk up to our local village in the dusk, leaving my husband and brother at home wrapping up their last minute presents for me and my mum and putting them under the tree (they still think we don’t know about it!). I love the feeling I get when we reach our village on this Eve – reveling in the fact that all the shops are closed; soaking in the peace; knowing that there is no more that can be bought or got, and that I can just enjoy the Christmas from now on. Walking by these shop windows and visiting our church; which is lit softly and so, so quiet; awaiting the midnight ceremonies. After saying our prayers, remembering those who we have lost and lighting a candle at the crib, we then wander into our local pub to get hot chocolates and muffins at the fire; afterwards heading home just in time to see Santa leave the North Pole on the Six O’Clock news. My girls allowed to open only one Christmas present that evening – always pajamas from my Mom. And finally settling in for the evening with neighbours and friends calling – waiting for my girls to go to sleep before Santa arrives.

Waking up the next morning blurry eyed and heart racing as my girls wake the whole house waiting for Nana and Uncle Stephen to wake up. Grabbing my phone to capture the moments of surprise. Oohing and aahing at all the presents. My husband putting on cooker for breakfast and the kettle for tea. My brother finding batteries and screwdrivers for toys.

My mum knowingly looking at me as we think how much we miss my dad on these days especially. Getting interrupted by more excitement as new presents are found under the tree. Followed quickly by grumbles as I say we have to get ready for mass. I take a deep breath – delighted that Santa had brought the girls what they wanted and now looking forward to us all going to my mum-in-laws for her amazing Christmas dinner along with all my extended family. I now know Christmas has arrived. I can now relax.”

To convert my story into sales is not that hard to do. Many retailers could pick up on my ideals, family values, imaginative and romantic ideals to create a simple little special event which could make me feel like I want to go there. By default, I know I would end up purchasing goods there, simply because it made me feel excited.

I would also probably make it a new Christmas tradition, if it were special enough.

My little story as told above are our little family traditions, amongst many. They make me who I am – it is part of my culture.

We also have many other traditions that we love too at different times of the year – including the Easter Bunny hunt; my children’s “back to school parties” and dressing up the house – and ourselves – for Hallowe’en. Each of these as important as the next.

So who gives retailers the right to overshadow these in favour of Christmas?

I often wonder do large retailers have any sense of what tradition means to people?

Or know how important it is to not destroy the exciting rush people get leading up to certain events?

That it can benefit them – benefit their businesses. The anticipation and excitement in the few weeks building up to the Big Day is usually so intense simply because of the short time that people have to get their shopping in, post Christmas cards or decorate their homes. All while doing so in really cold weather and wrapped up in hats and scarves. A time of the year where most people wouldn’t venture out to do shopping for hours – but do – because they want to capture the Christmas spirit. And even though people may complain about the rush – it does all add up to the overall positive experience – retailers listen up – setting up Christmas shops with decorations is not a priority, it’s a nice to have, for those niche few who have time to window shop! And they would still happily wait until November to purchase same – and probably more eagerly too. Early innovators and adopters will drive the market, and it will naturally reach it’s point on the curve on Christmas Eve. Timing is everything.

Summer is not associated with Christmas. Cold weather is very much part of what it is all about. Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Guiness ads are an example of this showing in their campaigns. And when we see these ads, we do feel Christmas has really begun.

We appreciate the warmth of shops, restaurants and often  stay that little bit longer to browse before we go out again.

But when something is disassociated with what it is culturally supposed to be, it can change our perceptions, thus changing the experience. The same as when something is long drawn out it can take away from the value offering. Have you ever been to an amazing conference with excellent speakers, but the day goes on too long and you leave feeling drained, not inspired, forgetting the good you had witnessed? I feel we appreciate the time that follows a short rush of adrenaline – much like after winning a race of sorts. We relax way more. We often feel proud of our achievements.

I love having a date to look forward to – for me it creates anticipation and excitement – and a crazy element of sheer panic! Even a wedding day can do this – though booked a year in advance – many things are still often left on the long finger, and it is then people often buy things they just don’t need – and quite often even can’t even afford. But they do it because they want to make sure everything is just right.

Even the most organised people in the world will do the same thing.

Is this not good for enterprises?

From my own perspective I feel that many people spend less in “window shopping” mode, and it makes me think why do businesses aim for small purchases and waste their valuable staffs time (and company finances) all year round with Christmas shops for example, when they could cleverly capitalise (if I am to use the word!) on an anticipation and excitement which could potentially bring people from all corners of the country to be there. And repeat the same year after year.

Why not focus on what the market need, instead of presuming what they want? People emotionally purchase non-essential products.

I wonder do many enterprises understand the benefits of creating an outstanding customer cultural experience where their consumers could potentially make their store part of their family Christmas tradition, like I do with our little pet farm in Athlone? I question if retailers survey their communities (not just their current consumers) to capture what potential new markets really want?

It seems to me that the very thing that society wants (and needs – i.e. looking forward to good times) is dying out because of constant reminders nearly all year round that “such and such” is only around the corner – and by doing so, overshadows or ignores important times such as Hallowe’en – all of which could be capitalised on more by retailers if they had enough savvy.

So, as I said earlier, a video was posted via a national Irish newspaper on Facebook showing a large retailer opening it’s Christmas shop in August. I decided to see if it was just me who was feeling so negative about it. I went through the comments and came up with some statistics based on my findings:

510 comments were made in total (at my time of reading it).

248 people expressed dislike at the store opening it’s Christmas shop in August.

130 people expressed positivity at the store opening its store in August.

132 other comments were variable and included the tagging of people, for example.  

Many people said they loved Christmas, and the shop looked nice but still said it was too early. 

From the negative undertones captured many were concerned that the “spirit of Christmas was being destroyed”.

So no, it wasn’t just me. 

“As slow as Christmas” is a saying that I sadly think will itself slowly die out, if it to be an all year event.

I feel consumerism is pushing the boundaries of time. Is this why we feel time is going so fast? Is it because we are constantly being made aware of the future by tactics like this, with no focus on what is happening right now?

Call to Action:

I ask our commercial entities to stop changing what works and start focusing on it; incorporating it into your strategies. I think businesses should pace themselves and take recount. Maybe think of a kick-ass marketing strategy that will bring more new customers into YOUR shop during the Christmas period – use your money, your staff and time wisely. Capitalise, if you must, on the EXPERIENCE that Christmas and other events are all about – do not choose one over the other as your priority; nor just think about the materials that are associated with these events. I advise retailers to read Fred Lee’s slide share on the importance of focusing on experience over outputs, and you will get even better outputs than you ever expected.

I know that I for one, have now made a decision to not visit the store who set up this Christmas shop anymore – which is particularly sad for me as this store was previously known as Switzer’s and was one my mom brought me to at Christmas time as a young child.

I was this stores market.

And sadly, because they are ruining what I see as a huge part of my experience, they have just lost me, and many more, through their pushy, materialistic marketing campaigns.