For business writers, this coming week is the final stretch of a two-month study of consumer spending, advertising, marketing and sales tactics as buyers and sellers engage in their annual dance, each trying to woo maximum value from the other.
To keep the momentum going, here are a few story ideas that span the last week of the year:
Wrap rage. That’s the term for the sometimes violent response consumers feel to the impermeable packaging so many gift items are sealed in these days. Consumer Reports recently gave a name to a number of packaging bugaboos, including “the oyster,” “the black hole” and “the golden cocoon.” And someone on Amazon.com has posted The Gallery of Wrap Rage, featuring photos of the tools used to defeat excess plastic. Even the trade journal Plastics Today admits that rugged wrap sends some 6,000 people a year to the emergency rooms nationwide, though it does try to characterize the consumer response as “harmless frustration.”
If you’ll be reporting on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, or assigning a photographer to chronicle family scenes including gift exchanges, you might want to pay special attention to any hold-ups in the festivities caused by difficult packaging. (And have a plan for checking on wrap-rage injuries at emergency rooms, as well.)
Even before Christmas, you can talk with parents and other gift-givers about what they’ve faced in trying to free prospective presents from commercial wrap for assembly or placing in prettier paper. And of course, if you have any major consumer goods makers in your area, or purveyors of products designed to destroy tough containers, you could regionalize a feature like this excellent 2011 New York Times piece about changes in packaging trends. Did any of the purported improvements materialize for Christmas 2012?
Open Christmas Day. Do you want fries with that plum pudding? Movie theaters and some restaurants have done it for years, as have chain drugstores and a few other outlets of the practical variety. But as we say on Thanksgiving, national chains are loath to give up even the slimmest chance of a sale, and now McDonald’s, stung by slumping sales, is asking its franchisees to open their stores on Christmas Day. As Advertising Age reports, the retailer was able to boost November sales by an estimated $36 million by staying open for Thanksgiving, and hopes to best that on Dec. 25.
It’s worth talking with local fast food franchisees about how they plan to respond to the corporate plea. And will this shift prompt other fast-food operators to follow suit? (It also might be interesting to interview consumers wheeling up for a festive Big Mac and large fry amid the holiday cheer; what’s their story?) You can do some advance interviews with marketing and restaurtant industry experts about the “is nothing sacred?” trend of 24/7 competition that has emerged in recent years.
Here’s another open-Christmas-Day angle from the Chicago Tribune, about finding winners among restaurants open Dec. 25; you can give it more of a financial spin by profiling the small businesses and illustrating how the holiday plays in their December business model. And of course, from a workplace angle, it’s interesting to take a look at careers that don’t take a holiday, from health care to public safety to behind-the-scenes workers in IT, at utility companies, on-call repair services and more.