Less than a month to go before Christmas (or, as it may end up being dubbed this year, Unwrapping Tuesday, given the burgeoning marketing trend of day-of-the-week gimmicks) and the sleigh still is bulging with interesting seasonal business angles.
Retail sales over the Black Friday- Cyber Monday stretch formerly known as Thanksgiving weekend are being spun as disappointing, as this Bloomberg story reports, with same-store receipts well below expectations and in some cases failing to meet even 2011 gains. Most analysts are blaming the tepid returns on the ripple effects of Hurricane Sandy; it might be interesting to see if national chains will divulge figures that show whether or not your region bucked that trend. Also, how did independent retailers and Main Street merchants fare? Entrepreneur reports that consumers spent $5.5 billion at small firms on the designated day, quoting a National Federation of Independent Businesses survey. Here’s an interesting take in Forbes that seems ripe for localizing: An independent rare bookseller writes about what worked, and what didn’t, in helping her shop boost sales 400 percent over the same day last year. Why not poll local small business owners about how they lured consumers last weekend, or why they think they failed?
Another angle to check if your area is home to any large retailers, check into their overseas mail-order market. This New York Times piece notes that some retail companies are expanding into foreign markets, yet I’ve seen blurbs on the Internet indicating that others have decided not to ship goods to Canada and elsewhere; the message boards of the QVC home shopping channel were getting an earful from disappointed shoppers north of the border recently, for example. You might quiz area merchants about the pros and cons of doing business outside U.S. borders.
Other good mid-month ideas:
Green Christmas. Not everyone is into the blazing lights, plentiful packaging and other traditions that make for a heavy carbon footprint this month. Take a look at the availability of products — like re-useable cloth gift bags, solar-powered lights and plantable potted trees — which some people use to celebrate in style. (Hint, check sites like Etsy, eBay or local craft bazaars for some of the grass-roots products like the drawstring bags; you might find a local seller.) Look for businesses making a statement; here’s an Austin American-Statesman piece about a hair salon that flaunts a wreath made of recycled magazines and shampoo bottles; some Whole Foods stores accept burned-out holiday lights for recycling. The web abounds with tips and tricks for making the holidays greener; here’s a list from Earth Easy that will help you brainstorm financial features.
Corporate parties and New Year’s Eve bookings. Challenger, Gray & Christmas says 83 percent of firms it surveyed plan a holiday party this year, compared to 68 percent last year. If that holds true in your region, what’s the ripple effect on hotels, restaurants, banquet and function centers, caterers and other hospitality suppliers? In the same vein, with a month to go, how are New Year’s Eve bookings comparing to last year at popular local venues? To what do proprietors attribute the change?
Oddball tie-ins. Christmas creep isn’t limited to shopping promotions. While Coca-Cola’s classic Claus, holiday Hershey kisses and seasonal lottery scratch-offs have been fairly commonplace for years, an amusing array of products are making themselves over in merry fashion. A round up of oddball holiday items found in drug stores, convenience stores, grocers and like would be fun — think online slide show — but also the basis for a substantive marketing and advertising story. Is it so crucial to seem part of the season that consumer goods makers will bear the expense of special holiday packaging and flavor tweaks to get on board? My e-mail includes the reassuring message that “Bacon Santa is here,” with an ad for a bacon-lovers gift package. Pringles e-mailed about their limited edition holiday flavors, including white chocolate and peppermint; I see the Houston Chronicle got the memo too, and also dug up even more interesting items like turkey-flavored potato chips and mashed-potato jelly beans. We’ve all seen the drugstore gift sets of holiday-packaged personal care items; what other kooky gifts and edibles can you find on local shelves?