Christmas in July: Sales bells for retailers and restaurants?

by July 11, 2013
Carolers

Christmas carolers in July. Photo by Flickr user The Tree Topper

The year 2013 does seem to be flying by at top speed, but a “Black Friday” sales promotion in my e-mail the other day still was a jolt.

Then I remembered – it’s July – and while we are half a year away from the Yule, merchants, advertisers and other consumer-oriented entities are trying to prompt some extra spending by invoking holiday mania.  I notice the Hallmark Channel is running a full slate of the romantic-comedy holiday film fare that has become one of its staples — wonder how advertisers respond to a gimmick like that?  And why?  Here’s a Yahoo! page that purports to explain the history of the phenomenon, which supposedly started out as a summer diversion in a 1930s camp, got a boost from wartime church services and a Hollywood movie, and then like many cultural touchpoints was annexed by merchants in the 1950s.

And aside from the aforementioned Black Friday deals, the regional big-box chain Meijer (it’s big here in the Midwest; think grocery plus general merchandise, like a Super Target or Walmart) is touting “deep holiday-like discounts” and a Summer Cyber Week of online sales for items like kayaks and bicycles.   I poked around and found commercial Christmas in July examples ranging from restaurants in Richmond, Va. to a hotel package in Louisville, Ky. to a thrift store in Alabama .  Here’s a Christmas in July deal in the Cincinnati area via Groupon, and of course, craft stores and year-round Christmas kitsch outlets love the notion of a summer Christmas.  And it’s not uncommon for non-profits like museums, historical mansions/villages, garden clubs, art festivals and others to feature C in J promotions or special attractions.

Why not do a round-up of area merchants and venues taking part in this gimmick?  It’s a fun feature but you can make it more substantive in several ways.  First, what’s the business advantage of overshadowing summer with visions of tinsel and reindeer?  Does it really make consumers behave differently?  Is it a way to start clearing warm-weather inventory on an upbeat note? (And how are summer sales to begin with– what’s moving, and what’s not, and how have weather, employment news and other factors played in?)  What material difference does it make at the cash register?   Does it pave the way for real holiday business?

Here, for example, is an Atlanta Business Chronicle story about advance bookings to see a popular local Santa; registration starts in July for holiday audiences with the busy elf.  What is going on behind the scenes — refurbishing of mall holiday décor, hiring of elves and St. Nicks, purchasing of advertising space?    What about sundries like wrapping paper and tape; are they winging their way toward department and dollar stores as we speak?  How early is Christmas décor and holiday music going to hit stores this year — will they wait till the end of September, at least?

Another take on Christmas in July is to get a forecast or outlook from local merchants, restaurant operators and others at discretionary-spending venues (malls, cinemas, theme parks) for the second half of 2013.   What patterns are they seeing in year-to-date sales that have set the tone for the year?  How did their inventory projections fare, and are they making any adjustments?  What orders have they placed for the November/December holiday season and what sort of merchandise is expected to be hot?  Did they keep any seasonal hires from last year, and are they projecting the need for extra sales, servers and such this year?   What advertising is in the works for the coming Christmas season; commercials and such must be shooting now.

Finally, of course, this is a good peg for a personal finance story, from “best things to buy in July” to advance planning for holiday travel, holiday gift spending and bookings for services like outdoor light set-up, party catering and the like.