Black November, and Other Notes on a Tumultuous Holiday Season For Retailers

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MartyBrochsteinBy Martin Brochstein, Senior Vice PresidentSVP Industry Relations and Information,  (LIMA)

We’re in the homestretch of the 2015 holiday shopping season, and there’s little doubt that online and mobile shopping have permanently altered the consumer landscape. The hysteria that once characterized “Black Friday” is quickly receding into history; news footage of people sleeping outside stores to catch the hot door-buster deals has given way to shots of shoppers more leisurely making their way into the malls on Thanksgiving Day and the days leading up to Christmas.

Black Friday has lost some of its once powerful pull because merchants – in their ever-accelerating desire to nab early sales in a hyper-competitive environment – continued to push big promotions farther forward, to the point that Black Friday has evolved into “Black November.” And they’ve coined the term, “Black Friday deals”, to drive home their sharp pricing strategy for the entire holiday shopping season.

The dampening of Black Friday is also due to the way etailing has democratized holiday shopping; consumers need not sacrifice their Thanksgiving, or get out of bed in the middle of the night any longer; they can do it all right from their desktop or that computer terminal in the palm of their hand – also known as a smartphone.

Black November, and Other Notes on a Tumultuous Holiday Season For RetailersThe retailers themselves are still trying to figure this all out. How do “clicks” and “bricks” coexist?

In a discussion of retailing’s future at Licensing Expo 2015 this summer, Dow Famulak, president of multinational Global Brands Group, pointed to a simpler time when, “Historically, people had one way to shop – come in [to a store] to look, try on, buy, and leave. Now, between mobile phones, laptops and computers at home [and in the store] – the consumer has 64 different ways to shop to get to that end purchase.”

Lisa Harper, CEO of Hot Topic Inc., during that same discussion, said that multiplatform retailers which are trying to pinpoint the online/physical store mix are missing the point. “It has to work seamlessly; it’s not one answer or the other,” she said, offering up analytics showing that Hot Topic customers “that are shopping both channels – online and in stores – spend about 2.5 times more than if they just shop one channel. So our favorite customers are our multichannel customers.”

Similarly, she said, “We also know that every time we open a store, it drives a couple of hundred thousand dollars of additional business online. We look at the analytics constantly to understand what that relationship is as it continues to build. And that relationship is more important – and more profitable – as we move forward.”

“We try to make it as seamless as possible,” she continued, “for them to buy online and pick up in stores, [and] return in stores no matter where they bought it. We’re doing everything we can to encourage more of our customers to use all distribution channels as seamlessly as possible.”

And while some see more and more of retail going online, others caution that parts of the physical experience just can’t be replicated. Richard Barry, Executive VP, Global Chief Merchandising for Toys“R”Us Inc., noted, “If you watch a kid come into our store, their jaw will drop when they see a [Teenage Mutant Ninja] Turtles feature shop or a Disney feature shop (or Minions or Jurassic Park)…[That] is something you can’t do with an online experience.”

“Yes, you can show great content [online], you can show the items…. But the store is a place where you can extend the story. We believe we are a place to extend what the entertainment companies are doing, what the licensees are doing, and really building out brands…And we can really bring it to life via technology in-store and [through] demonstrations and events,” he said. “The store has a massive importance in thinking about the path to purchase and also in building brands.”

So, as has become quite apparent, this holiday season, the successful retailers and brand stewards won’t be sticking with just one channel, but rather making sure that wherever, whenever and however the consumer is ready to buy, they’re ready to make the sale.

 About the Author: Marty Brochstein is responsible for LIMA’s outbound communications, as well as many of its educational efforts, such as the year-round webinar program and the extensive Licensing University seminar program that takes place each year in conjunction with the Brand Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. He also has spoken at conferences and seminars around the world on a wide range of licensing- and retail-related issues, and is widely quoted on issues related to licensing, marketing and branding. He joined LIMA in 2008 after 12 years as Executive Editor of The Licensing Letter, a New York-based newsletter that covers the global licensing business. He also was Editorial Director of the parent publishing company, EPM Communications. In addition to writing and editing the twice-monthly newsletter, he also compiled the publication’s industry numbers and edited EPM’s other licensing-related publications, including International Licensing: A Status Report, and The Licensing Letter’s Sports Licensing Report. Brochstein was a business journalist for more than 30 years, primarily covering the consumer products and retail industries. Before joining The Licensing Letter, he spent five years as Senior Editor of Television Digest and founding editor of Consumer Multimedia Report. He also has been editor of several publications in the consumer electronics and retail fields. He is a graduate of Boston University.  

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