The Business of the Holiday Season

Crowded store

Many of you know I’m a retail management consultant by day. In my best consulting speak, I focus on the retail vertical and whenever possible, the luxury industry. To put a finer point on it, I seek out players in the luxury beauty industry because I need to feed my addiction. SHOCKER! (Take a peak at Expert on Time Consulting to learn more about my grown-up life.)

Retailers moved into their holiday business with gusto this past weekend. It’s the business we love to hate …. publicly condemning the commercialization of the holiday season while we secretly hop online at 12:01 AM for Black Friday sales. I see you. So does the GDP.

For the last few weeks I watched as mere mortals (non-retailers) applauded organizations like REI and DSW for closing on Thanksgiving day and allowing their employees’ time with their families. Well, I’m here to deliver a brutal breath of fresh air — they’re not open this year because they didn’t open last year. And, this leads me to….

The “Holiday Rules of Retailing”:

RULE # 1: Above all else you must anniversary your numbers and then some! Meaning, if you sold 1 million dollars last year, than you need to sell 1.5 million this year. If that meant being open on Thanksgiving last year, then you do it again. How the hell else could you pick up an extra $550,000 in a day? What’s that? You’ve had an unusually soft fall season? Then, by all means, open on Thanksgiving for the first time this year to recoup some of your lost volume! (And, welcome to RULE #1)

RULE # 2: Real, live people show up to shop on the day of and at 6:00 am the day after Thanksgiving. It’s called supply and demand. IF it was unproductive to open on holidays than retailers would not do it! Think about that. The next time you chastise a retailer for their ungodly holiday hours, redirect your ire towards your goof-ball neighbor door busting at 5:45 AM!

RULE # 3: Competitors are waiting to clean their rivals clock. Target opened at 6:00 PM on Thanksgiving. JCPenney countered by opening at 3:00 PM. It was a calculated move by JCP to get a jump on Target. Oh, by the way… many retailers are competing with their own .com brethren. Depending on the retailer’s business model the .com site and the brick and mortar stores may be set up as separate divisions. Yep — kinda seems silly to divide your own team, but that’s life in retailing. Suck it up.

RULE # 4: Discounts and sales keep creeping earlier into the calendar. In 1983 I worked for a regional retail chain, Chas. A. Stevens. The President of the organization turned things sideways when he announced a 33% discount the three days before Thanksgiving. PEOPLE, that was in 1983! This is not a new phenomenon.

RULE # 5: Industries like hospitality, retailing, and medical are not known for their work/ life balance benefits. And many people shopping on these odd holiday hours may be doing so because it’s the only time they have to shop.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not thrilled with the commercialization of the holiday season. I hate to hear industry terms like “Black Friday” used in ad copy. I grew up with a different definition of the term that my retail elders shared with me,

Black Friday was an industry term used by retail accountants to denote when a retailer moved out of the “red” into the “black”.

We were’t trying to hide anything from our clients. We were trying to preserve the magic of the season. Several years ago, I served as the Assistant Store Manager at Marshall Field’s State Street. Nothing beat the thrill of opening the State Street doors the day after Thanksgiving as we watched families usher in the Walnut Room tradition. It’s harder to find these days, but the holiday magic is still there.

Any six year old will tell you that!

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