Gearing Up for the Holidays in an Election Year

When the days grow shorter and the air starts to turn chilly, retail companies prepare for their hottest time of year. As they get ready for the holiday season, retailers will do well to keep three additional factors in mind:

u Adjust for the presidential election. Typically, retailers market heavily in October and early November to drive store foot traffic as the holidays begin. Early marketing efforts, however, will not go as far this holiday season.

ShopperTrak’s analysis reveals shopping activity tends to lessen before national election days. During the 2004 presidential election, for example, retail foot traffic saw a year-over-year decline of 0.7% the week before the election and 2.2% the week of the election. Similarly, in 2008, retail foot traffic declined 3.7% the week before the presidential election and 6.3% the week of the election, when compared with the same period the year before. While economic factors account for some of these declines, especially in 2008, the data show elections do have an impact on these rates.

Retailers should plan for decreased traffic leading up to the Nov. 6 election this year and keep the marketing powder dry until after the election. Scheduling marketing efforts to coincide with when customers are ready to shop will make a bigger impact.

• Schedule against the calendar. Retailers that schedule operating hours and staff based simply on last year’s store performance and calendar will lose out this holiday season.

Movement of key shopping days on the calendar affects each season. For example, in 2010, Dec. 26 fell on Sunday, a day that generally features church service conflicts and abbreviated shopping hours. Last year, however, Dec. 26 fell on a Monday — and people who took Monday as a holiday stormed stores in record numbers. So, while Dec. 26 is often a busy day, many retailers were ill-prepared to service these additional shoppers and lost business that day.

Another casualty of calendar shift last year was the Friday and Saturday right before Christmas. Those days lost some retail steam because shoppers were more likely to stay home and begin their holiday weekend early. Dec. 17, the Saturday one week before Christmas, therefore, was the third-busiest shopping day of the season and generated $7.4 billion in sales.

Based on more than 20 years of historical foot traffic data, ShopperTrak expects the weekend before Christmas (Dec. 21 to Dec. 23) this year to be one of the biggest of the season. Since Christmas 2012 falls on a Tuesday, last-minute shoppers will go to stores that weekend without sacrificing any of their holiday plans. This year, retailers that use historical traffic patterns and benchmarking tools will gain similar, critical insights to beat out those that don’t.

• Earn customer loyalty all year. The holidays may be retail’s busiest time of the year, but shoppers make buying decisions all year long. Retailers that wait until the holidays to build customer loyalty and bring in new business are too late.

The 2011 holiday season accounted for only 21% of annual sales. And while holiday sales improved 3.7% over 2010, in-store foot traffic decreased 3.1% compared with the previous holiday season. While foot traffic has slightly improved this year, retailers must be prepared to make the most of every shopper opportunity that walks through the doors — all year long.

Holiday preparedness is more important than ever. Retailers able to stuff their stockings a little fuller this year will earn customer loyalty early and plan for positive customer experiences based on historical foot traffic.

About the author

Bill Martin is the founder and executive VP of ShopperTrak, a leading retail technology company that anonymously counts people, analyzes data and identifies opportunities to increase revenue for retailers, mall developers and entertainment venues. Find out more at

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