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It’s not too soon to plan holiday hiring and shopping stories

Clearance on Halloween merchandise!  All Christmas-themed goods 25 percent off!

Golden Christmas ball hanging on a tree

Photo by Flickr user Caffeinated Lens

Just kidding, but barely.  It’s still officially summertime on the calendar, but that hasn’t stopped merchants from trotting out spooky costumes, reindeer lawn ornaments and other crucial elements of the fourth-quarter make-it-or-break-it spending mania.  According to this USA Today article, “Retailers are starting the holiday even earlier this year.” That’s in part, the article says, to accommodate the 37-plus percent of shoppers who will do some holiday shopping by the time the pumpkins are lit for Halloween.

Seasonal jobs already are being advertised, too, so between the two economic powerhouses of spending and employment, it’s none too soon to  start plotting your coverage strategy.

There’s still time, for example, to round up consumers for a sort of longitudinal study of who’s spending what this year — via a blog, a reader panel or other standing feature that reflects activity in your market.  If that’s not feasible, still, start setting aside names and contact information of “real people” in various walks of life — young families, empty nesters, single households, snowbirds, etc. — on whom you can call when you’re doing a story about hot toys, or online shopping, or gifts of experience or other facets of holiday spending.

Same goes for retailers, restaurateurs, trade group representatives, consumer-goods makers and distributors, UPS district managers, greeting-card rack stockers, mall operators, commercial real estate brokers, professional holiday-light hangers, caterers, temporary agencies and assorted other holiday elves.

Spend some time pondering the sort of sources you’ve needed in previous years’ crunch time and line up good ones or better ones now, before the last-minute rush.  Check your story archives for last year’s most authoritative, candid or pithy sources and give them a ring — how are holiday preparations going and what’s their outlook for this year compared to last?  You might unearth nuggets that spawn some offbeat story angles for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas or any of the myriad other social/religious/cultural holidays coming up over the next three months.

By starting this early, you can collect fodder for interesting explainers on the flow of holiday-related merchandise and the analysis merchants did before placing this year’s orders.

Halloween decorations at Disney store

Photo by Flickr user Loren Javier

Online shopping continues to be a juggernaut threatening bricks-and-mortar retailers; the just-out IBM Coremetrics 4th Annual Online Retail Holiday Readiness Report (a free PDF download is available if you provide name and affiliation information) is well worth a read; it includes interesting factoids about increasing order values, items per order and other metrics of online shopping.  According to the forecast, increased ordering earlier this year bodes well for the 2011 holiday shopping season.

Of note from the study:  83 percent of survey respondents say they prefer to shop online rather than in crowded stores over Thanksgiving weekend, and 20 percent expect to spend more over the web in 2011.  Armed with such talking points, visit Main Street merchants and mall managers in your market; how on earth do they combat that attitude and what does increasing online shopping mean to to the merchandise mix, pricing, staffing, promotional strategy and other tactics at bricks-and-mortar stores? This Chain Store Age article, for example, talks about retailers equipping roving staffers with mobile point-of-sale machines so that rushed shoppers need not stand in line to check out.  Great fodder there for technology writers!

Speaking of staffing, a new report by the consulting firm Hay Group finds that retailer holiday hiring may be flat relative to last year, with some planning to trim.  Your readers would snap up a local version of the survey — covering not just stores but restaurants, caterers, shippers and other sources of part-time jobs.

Another avenue: Check out the help-wanted ads yourself.  I searched “seasonal” on CareerBuilder.com and came up with thousands of hits for jobs ranging from warehouse work at Target to drivers for the peak season in propane gas delivery. Another example: Shutterfly, the personal-publishing firm in Phoenix, is holding job fairs to hire 600 seasonal workers, up 100 from last year. Seasonal hiring is a great source of quirky story ideas as well as substantive “what’s out there?” information for your readers.

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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