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Reporting early on the holiday retail sales season

July 17, 2012

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We are a little more than five months away from the most crucial week in retailing, and if you’re looking for a fun yet informative businss feature, contemplate a look at Christmas in July.

Retailers already are tipping their plans for the holiday season; last week Target and Neiman Marcus announced a merchandising partnership to create a joint designer holiday collection of apparel and housewares.  It’s part of the department store’s strategy to attract younger customers, Forbes reports, and it’s a sign that even retailing icons anticipate a price-conscious shopper this season.

And Target may also win this year’s award for early holiday hype; in a Christmas-in-July twist, the discounter sent an e-mail blast this week and has an online page touting its Bonus Black Friday sale this upcoming Friday and Saturday.

What do your area’s Main Street merchants expect this year?  Independent shops probably went on buying trips or placed orders months ago; talk to them about how their order volume, price points and merchandise mix differ from previous seasons, and why.

Talk with mall managers as well; how are vacancy rates ahead of the fall and holiday seasons?  What inquiries are they getting about temporary kiosks or even temporary shops in empty storefronts; these pop-up stores have become a staple in recent years.  What about special events to lure consumers, or decorating plans, or services like valet parking and gift wrapping or concierge help? Any social media or other ad campaigns afoot?  Keep in mind that retailers typically present an optimistic front; they don’t want to create any self-fulfilling prophecies by talking down prospective sales.  So try to insist on quantitative information rather than anecdotes.

A few early reports suggest that this season might be tepid or at least practical; here’s a June press release by Unity Marketing about its Gifting Report 2012 ; it says merchants are going to have to exert themselves to woo the cash-strapped, stressed-out shopper.  The full report is available for a fee but a fair amount of free information is offered at this link.

A Retail Week report from the U.K. echoes the notion of the hesitant consumer (you’ll have to complete a free registration process to read it) and Reuters reports that overseas orders for trinkets from China are down by double digits.

Not everyone is suffering.  The guys who cashed in last year on the craze for tacky Christmas sweaters are doing well and have just opened their third e-commerce site, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.  Which leads to another fun Christmas in July feature angle:  the market for Christmas collectibles.  Find local eBay sellers using the ZIP code search and check out consignment shops, thrift stores and antique malls for a report on the hottest Christmas collectibles.

The personal finance angle also is timely; people still have 20 weeks to make a sane spending plan and save up for it, or to make thoughtful purchases at summer festivals and art fairs rather than ducking in to a chain store on Dec. 23.  Some communities or retail clusters offer special Christmas in July sales, too.  Attending a few such events might be a good way to get contact information for consumers you could “follow” throughout the season as they prep for Dec. 25 or other winter holidays.

Also, don’t forget about non-gift spending that is driven by the holiday, from catering and event planning to municipal decorations; it’s not too soon to talk with venues, food distributors and stores, tree or wreath producers and other suppliers about how their year-end outlook is shaping up.


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