When I was a kid, one of the most exciting events for a military brat in Europe was when we received the Sears Christmas Catalog in the mail. My siblings and I would spend hours eye-balling the latest toys, clothing and musical instruments. The catalog was magic to me. I swear I can remember it glowing in the dark. I guarantee you that the catalog didn’t have to pursue me, I pursued it, never letting it out of my sight and making sure my parents knew, in no uncertain terms, exactly what I wanted for Christmas. Wind the calendar to the present day and witness retailers using technology to lure you and your dollars into spending as early as they can. This holiday season is starting early and will hit you from every angle to try and get you to buy early and often.
According to the playbooks written by Walmart, Target and other major retailers, the holiday sales season kicks off this weekend. Ad agencies, digital marketing firms and app developers have been frantically working through the summer to help develop strategies that will meet you where you are and attempt to be the path of least resistance between your new chip-embedded credit card and the merchandise you will soon be told you need to have.
According to retail trade organizations and the Deloitte 2015 Holiday Survey, sales are expected to increase between 3 percent and 5 percent. Retailers hope to beat the projections with a combination of technology, early discounts and good old fashion salesmanship.
Walmart, for instance, will be offering customers a free downloadable mobile app that will put more emphasis on tying together the online and in-store shopping experiences. Customers who have placed their orders online will be able to check-in at the local store via the app and be told when they orders are ready for pick-up. Target is expanding its Curbside service to 121 stores where customers can have their mobile orders brought to their cars in an area outside of the store.
Although 90 percent of retail sales still occur in-store, nearly 80 percent of shoppers say they go online to research, compare and get pricing before they venture into the store. Brands are increasingly interacting with customers via their smartphones, laptops tablets and desktops.
Going back to the catalog, as a kid, our shopping was planned and more deliberate. There was a budget. We knew what our clothes (still the number one gift) to toy ratio was. We knew what price ranges were off-limits. We did a lot of guessing looking at pictures. Now, both parents and kids can be hyper-targeted with specific messages through services like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. On sites like YouTube, kids can know exactly what’s in the package and hear consumer reviews prior to making their decisions. Shopping lists on Twitter, with specific hashtags, can be followed by parents, relatives and retailers. Offers can interrupt your browsing with ads that have used your browsing habits to determine who you are and what you want to buy. Texts can deliver specific messages about items and sale prices and geolocation can point you to the nearest store.
In today’s retail environment, the consumer is the prey and retailers are using an arsenal of digital weaponry to find you, lure you and sell to you. The fun of the Christmas catalog was looking at all of the bright, pretty pictures. You knew you weren’t going to get most of what you were looking at but it was nice to dream. Today’s holiday shopping experience feels more like the Hunger Games. Run Katniss, run!
Woodard has been an advertising/marketing contributing columnist for six years and has written over 100 columns. He has been on air to discuss stories on Good Morning America, Dateline and the Evening News.
Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.