Bring on the Christmas spirit

So the Christmas decorations started appearing before Halloween this year, and already there’s been conjecture about David Jones’ windows.

Studies that I’ve run over the past several years into consumer attitudes to Christmas shopping show that when those decorations go up in the shopping centres, that’s the trigger to start thinking about the hunt for gifts.

But shoppers increasingly feel that Christmas retail in Australia is being stripped of its goodwill and togetherness cues, and is purely an exercise in cynical commercialism. Given our weather this time of year, combined with the hassle of parking and crowds, Christmas shopping is viewed by the majority as a grind.

An increasing number have reduced this by employing Kris Kringle and Secret Santa in their families – the Grinch didn’t steal Christmas but he’s increasingly managing it.

Who, then, best evokes emotion at Christmas, and what’s the benefit?

Christmas windows: Storytelling

Let’s take the obvious first cab off the rank, Christmas window displays. According to a number of lists, the world’s best Christmas window displays routinely name London (Selfridges, Liberty, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods), New York (Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, Tiffany & Co) and Paris (Printemps, Galeries Lafayette) as the top locations.

And not just for their scale, but for their creativity. They are not just about reindeer and sleighs or nativity scenes – some have a theme with a manufacturer tie-in. For example, Harrods in 2017 employed a “traditional Italian Christmas” display with Dolce & Gabbana puppets and a Dolce & Gabbana Italian market on the fourth floor.

Last year, the windows of Printemps in Paris featured a tale of two children who travel around the world on the trip of a lifetime in “the extraordinary journey of gifts”. Printemps partnered with six companies, including Fendi, MCM and Citroën, to bring the story to life.

Window displays are a cornerstone adding to the “spirit of Christmas”, even if the walk-past traffic they generate is likely higher than their converted traffic. They are a gesture of goodwill (at considerable expense) by the retailers. And the better ones employ creativity to suggest gift ideas shoppers may not otherwise have contemplated.

Christmas towns: Ambience, not just choice

A Best Choice Reviews list of the top 50 best US towns for Christmas shopping makes for interesting reading. List criteria include cities or towns that had received ranking or inclusion by “esteemed ranking bodies” for travel and shopping such as the Travel Channel, Forbes Travel and CNN Travel; the number of retail locations found in the county; the number of shopping malls/centres within 25 miles (approximately 40km); how many outlet malls could be found in under 60 minutes’ drive; total sales tax in each city (including state, county and local tax rates); the consumer price index of each city, and, finally, particular attention was paid to special Christmas festivities, traditions and events of interest.

Regardless of what you think of the criteria, the resulting list was telling. The top five in ascending order were: Dallas, Las Vegas,
New York, Los Angeles, and at number one … Austin, Texas, which is renowned for its independent retailers and eclectic boutiques.
Of particular note, though, was that the majority of places on the list were smaller towns such as Pigeon Forge in Tennessee, which
specialise in events and consistent city-wide Christmas ambience to go along with the retail.

Christmas ads: Evoking emotion, not selling stuff

British retailers are justly famous for their Christmas advertisements, with John Lewis in particular eagerly anticipated; 2014’s Monty the Penguin went viral globally and regularly sits in the top 10 lists of all-time great Christmas advertisements. (There’s a list for just about everything, it appears). The most beloved retailer and manufacturer Christmas advertising typically focuses on storytelling and evoking emotion, and often does away with a tagline altogether and just signs off with the retailer’s logo. The story is the message.
Retailers need to overcome shoppers’ Grinch and hassle perceptions. Physical retail should excel at emotion at Christmas,
where online can only provide range and price. Creativity can help shoppers find those special gifts in an increasingly homogeneous
world of retail sameness.

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