When it came to the holidays this year, I was surprised at how aggressive retailers seem to be online. Perhaps Amazon.com Inc. pushed the envelope with its Early Access sale and holiday promotions, and inspired retailers to launch their gift centers earlier than usual, as Amazon. I built a list that represented a cross-section of retailers to assess their status.
Of that list, only Walmart and J.Crew had not officially launched their gift centers online as of Oct. 20.
When arriving on Walmart.com, the retailer touted its membership program and its early access to Black Friday deals, however it had not launched a gift center yet.
With that in mind, I decided to hit the road and visit these 11 stores to see how festive they might be in their Chicagoland stores. I found that their focus appeared to be on fall, Halloween seasonal selling and for some, clearance seemed to be highest on the agenda. For me, that was a relief. I hope to see that in the stores this time of year. At the same time, I couldn’t help but take notice of their hiring signs and what retailers might be doing to address potential labor shortages regarding seasonal help.
In a suburban Chicago Walmart store, it had an ample clearance section and it had not yet launched holiday promotions. Instead, Halloween had a strong presence, as it should. There appeared to be a few endcaps with electronics which may be what remains from earlier sales.
For Target Corp., Target.com was way ahead of its retail store. Once shoppers got past Halloween offers, they could find Target’s Black Friday deals touted along with its Holiday Price Match Guarantee. This way, there would be no buyer’s remorse.
In-store, I could only give the nod to a well-stocked toy department with “priced right daily” products. Beyond that, the store held no sign of holiday activity.
Kohl’s was all about clearance though it managed to set up a toy department and dedicated a little real estate to holiday endcaps in housewares and pajamas for the entire family.
Macy’s took the prize for being holiday ready and was the only one who appeared to be in a festive mood. It still had plenty on clearance, but the visual experience said, “We’re in the holiday game.” I mainly found this display interesting as it took the attributes of shopping by price point, which is so prevalent on the web and brought it into the store environment.
Nordstrom, which was all about making merry when you arrived on Nordstrom.com, paid little homage to holiday buying in a suburban Chicago store. Instead, it had a fall fashion feel, which seemed perfectly appropriate. The only evidence I could see was in some holiday beauty boxes with a touch of the festive.
Attempts at getting started in store included Ulta’s two displays in a neighborhood Chicago store. It also had gift cards set up near order pickup as an opportune point-of-purchase holiday item. But had I not walked to the back of the store, I would have surely missed this holiday cheer. On a positive note, its “Sneak Peek” language mirrored the onsite experience, which bodes well for brand consistency.
Sephora, on the contrary only had a Kiehl’s display, one of their many vendors that focused on the upcoming holidays while their site was indeed gift ready.
Staffing will be an issue, evident at the entrance to many retailers. This sandwich board signage from Dick’s Sporting Goods greeted shoppers as they entered the store. There was no evidence of a holiday in the air. Retailers set up hiring signs set up at many of the other stores.
Knowing that being a sales associate would likely be a challenge, it was interesting to observe the real estate dedicated to mobile self checkout. Best Buy was encouraging its customers to try it out as a time-saver. That was the closest it came to holiday readiness.
In many instances, the web is uniquely positioned to kickstart the holidays. Displays are simple, and retailers have learned from past seasons what works. Retailers can add holiday gifts to navigation and position gift cards for sale. While merchants might not kick in holiday with all its bells and whistles, they have the basics in place. The stores will continue to catch up and appear in that more traditional time frame to launch post-Halloween. We will be back to see how Santa’s elves behave over the next month.