The Art of Making a Retail Holiday

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From Black Friday and Cyber Monday to back-to-school sales, retail holidays may be arbitrary, but they have become a core component of successful sales and marketing strategies. As a result of their success, these holidays are becoming expected, fixtures of the retail industry embedded in its collective psyche. Companies must innovate to keep them fresh. Brands need to monitor competitors to see what works and what doesn’t work and tweak their strategies appropriately. wanted to better understand the unique power that comes from creating a holiday. To do this, we dove into the data of successful “holiday” campaigns to find the answers.

Own Interest

A sale is something that generates a reason to buy, but a “holiday” is consistent, expected, and celebrated as an ongoing excuse for customers to make a visit, and hopefully, a purchase. What’s more, the timing of “holidays” is arbitrary, enabling a unique level of flexibility and control when done effectively.

Amazon is the king of online retail for a variety of reasons from their incomparable skill at customer acquisition to a seamless user experience. The brand has also set itself apart by the yearly, and now improperly named, Prime Day (considering it is now multiday). Prime Day is an annual event where a variety of products on are sold for significant discounts. The build-up and value combine to create a significant sense and urgency and a huge boost in sales around a made-up “holiday.”

In the world of offline retail, this presents a powerful lesson. Brilliantly, Prime Day did not remain limited to e-commerce—it brought a huge impact to offline brands under the Amazon umbrella like Whole Foods. Another great legacy retailer, Nordstrom, has also long utilized the retail holiday with their Anniversary Sale. In 2019, the weeks of this event drew visit rates that reached as high as 23.4% above the baseline for the period beginning in January 2018. 

Own the Calendar

The flexibility and control a brand has to create a holiday can turn into a huge asset when deployed strategically. No brand shows a greater proclivity for this than Starbucks. From reusable red cups to their December Happy Hour, the barista giant has shown an ongoing ability to stay top of mind. What makes this all the more impressive is that it doesn’t just drive tremendous spikes in visits – the December Happy Hour consistently drives visit numbers to one of their peaks for the entire year — it is also leveraged to make up for other weaknesses.

Take the summer. Starbucks sees the bulk of its strength in the winter months, where a hot cup of coffee has the seeming power to cure all ills no matter the time of the day. This elusive feeling becomes less appealing in the summer when the temperature spikes. While Starbucks does have a range of products to fit the summer mood, those months just don’t compete with the winter. 

So what do they do? They come up with concepts to create short-term bumps and supplement these by trying to shrink the summer down. In the midst of the summer doldrums, the brand released a Tie Dye Frappuccino that had visitors streaming into locations. This ploy did not result in huge peaks in visits, but it did dramatically improve periods that had previously seen a significant decline. Another example is the annual process of releasing the Pumpkin Spice Latte at an earlier date. This drink drives significant interest for the brand while also heralding the coming of fall and the oncoming period of strength for the coffee brand. 

The tactic works. By utilizing the excitement generated by the drink, the brand effectively extends its dominance further and further into a period of former weakness.

Ride the Wave

Think this strategy sounds like too much for a smaller brand or the shopping center that houses them? It might be.

But the magic of these holidays is that like Black Friday, their value can be extended to a wide variety of companies. Prime Day is a perfect example, with companies like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and more leveraging the period to drive interest online and offline. There is no reason this approach can’t be utilized more widely. Pulling back from the tunnel vision of one’s own metrics and taking a broader look at competitors and the wider ecosystem can unlock huge opportunities. 

If Starbucks has a deal and a company is located near one, they must understand the nuances of when that traffic comes so as to take advantage. If you run the shopping center that benefits from this traffic, it may be the ideal time for a pop-up or an experiential component that will help take those visits and extend them so that the full center can benefit. Simply put, brand holidays could provide immense value to the wider retail landscape, if only these companies were prepared to pounce on the opportunity.

Future Steps

Brand holidays are nothing new, and if recent success is any indicator, they aren’t going anywhere and will likely increase. So if you are a company with enough clout — whether regionally or nationally — it is a great opportunity to help own the calendar and fight back against seasonal disadvantages or improve upon an existing strength. If this type of concept isn’t within your reach, make sure to understand the tactics being used by neighbors and competitors so you can ride this wave to greater success.

The holidays are coming. Is your brand ready to celebrate?

Ethan Chernofsky is VP of Marketing at