Raising All Boats

Early stats are in on the day after Christmas. Looks like the retail world proved that “a rising tide lifts all boats” with its biggest season in 11 years.

“U.S. retail holiday sales jump 4.9%, biggest increase since 2011” — USA Today

Readers of this blog may recall my November posts titled  “Black Friday,So 5 Minutes Ago?” and decided it missed the mark. However, in its short report, USA Today quoted this retail exec:

“”Overall, this year was a big win for retail,” Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president of Market Insights, Mastercard, said in a statement issued with the report. “The strong U.S. economy was a contributing factor, but we also have to recognize that retailers who tried new strategies to engage holiday shoppers were the beneficiaries of this sales increase.” [emphasis added]

Leading this same article, USA Today references “thousands of story closings,” so it seems the strongest survivors got smart with marketing, incentives and timing to float their boats.

The competition for last minute shoppers is a big factor, which makes sense. Instead of battling freeway traffic, mall cross and gutted inventories, we now trust  the “click-to-buy” shopping experience.

Consider how many online marketers went over the top promoting last-minute delivery and free delivery to grab a strong share of last-minute shoppers. Whatever their motivation for waiting, whether guilt, overwhelm, last-minute cash-strapped buying or a combination of the three, they were ripe for the promise of speedy delivery. Rumor has it UPS made their accounting staffers drive trucks to swell their ranks and get packages delivered before it was too late. Even the USPS and Amazon made Christmas Eve and Christmas Day deliveries, per Amazon Seller-Central’s Forum. I still marvel and how the consumer landscape has changed since I grew up in a state which had long-standing “Blue Laws” that restricted holiday commerce in old-fashioned Massachusetts. They have since eased up, due to cultural shifts. But I digress 😉

What to watch: Now that online life has amped up expectations for the speed of commerce, be on the look-out for the impact (or ongoing fight?) about Net Neutrality. It is not just streaming that may be affected, but the costs and access to online mini-retailers. Everyone in business, large or small, needs to track this going forward, and adjust their strategies as needed.

• • •

Get. Give. Go-Back?

The term “Go-Back” in retail is a bit of a catch-all. It refers to what needs to be put back on the shelves in brick-and-mortar stores,or placed back in ready-to-ship inventory for online retailers. There are many reasons, including “shopping cart abandonment” in both physical and virtual stores. In any case, go-backs are time-consuming, labor-intensive, and therefore costly to process, often lagging due to other more pressing sales and customer service tasks.

The day after Christmas marks the start of an unsung surge of go-backs. Let’s have new respect for its role and the natural rhythms of retail life. The Wall Street Journal published this staggering number:

“Mr. Moore of Optoro estimates that goods purchased online are three times more likely to be returned as goods purchased in a physical store. In total, Mr. Moore said roughly $90 billion in holiday merchandise—purchased either in stores or online this season—will be returned over the next few weeks, with more than a third of it coming back before the new year.”

“Retailers Offer Myriad Returns Options to Retain Customers” — WSJ

THAT is a lot of bad guesses, wrong sizes, or just plain I-don’t-like-it-ism.

In addition, before the Internet made it so easy to post a pop-up sale or deal, retailers used December 26th to hold huge “50% off holiday merchandize!!” sales to pull in bargain hunters still at home for their holiday work break and school vacations. Nowadays,  they start these sales long before 12/26, not content to wait for the add-on revenues, and trying hard to outpace their competition.

What to watch: $90 billion is a LOT of returns to re-absorb, so pay attention to ongoing sale events in January, February and beyond. Sales analysts, employment specialists and economist need to factor this into their predictive modeling, too.

• • •

No Free Lunch Has Its Plusses

The New York Times calls in a hangover, as parsed in their article here:

Many Unhappy Returns? Online Holiday Shopping’s Big Hangover – The New York Times

Oh, and speaking of free… the NYT has a paywall designed to keep them in business, too, though not strictly a retailer. They will give online readers 10 free articles per month, but after that, no matter which general news feed gives you their headlines, (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) when you click the article link, they show it to you for a few swift seconds, then cover it up with a landing page form asking you to subscribe. No sales slouches, they!

Even if you don’ read the NYT article you may have experienced a shopping hangover of two of your own, or know someone how has.

Time for some belt-tighteing with homemade brown-bag lunches munched at your desk to avoid the temptation of spending too much lunch-money. Proving their is a retailer or online site to fill evey need, this is neatly solved by at least two sites: www.thekitchn.com has plenty of recipes for your lunches, and www.ebags.com has plenty of insulated lunch bags to put them in.

January is belt-tightening month, the perfect lead-in to the our traditional habit of making New Year Resolutions: Spend less! Save more! Lose weight! Join a gym!

Oops, joining a gym means spending more money. Hmmm. But gyms are brilliant at fulfilling two desires at once. (1) Persuade you that your commitment to health is real, and  (2) Tempt you with low monthly payments to ease the financial pain of membership fees.

What to watch: Of course you’ll feel better if you consider the impact of buying/spending choices before making them. Yet human nature being what it is, we often don’t do that, do we? We’ve got one little action you can take to change that now:

Here is small action now you can do AFTER all the hoopla will make you feel better. Recycle that Christmas Tree! Here is how, hot from The Rodale Press desk:

6 Ways To Recycle Your Christmas Tree After The Holidays – The Rodale Press
Keep your Christmas tree out of a landfill with these ideas.

Happy New Year!

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