Holiday Sales: Help From The Calendar, Hurt By The Election?
By Matt Pillar, editor in chief
ShopperTrak took a bold first crack at setting the bar for 2012 retail holiday sales, projecting a 3.3% improvement in year-over-year sales for November and December on a 2.8% increase in retail foot traffic.
Giving credence to the prediction are ShopperTrak’s more than 50,000 networked people counting devices, which monitor annual foot traffic for thousands of stores represented by more than 400 major retail brands. It’s a pretty unique vantage point for keeping an eye on shopper traffic patterns; the company’s installation base counts more than a billion customers per year, and its analytical software helps make sense of what those shoppers do, where they do it, when they do it, and why.
A 2.8% increase in retail foot traffic might not sound like big progress, but considering that holiday foot traffic fell 2.2% year-over year from 2010 to 2011, it’s a significant jump. ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin says retail foot traffic has been consistently on the increase this year, driving better–than-expected month-over-month sales. Another factor playing into the holiday foot traffic and sales prediction is time. The 2012 calendar presents us with the longest possible peak holiday shopping season, with a full thirty-two days of spending opportunity (including an extra full weekend) between Black Friday and Christmas. And with Hanukkah falling 11 days earlier than it did last year, retailers will have an early look at the consumer appetite and get an opportunity to make adjustments before the madness ends.
Martin is also quick to point out the more sobering considerations of a longer holiday shopping season. “Keeping stores open for longer hours across an extended time between holidays adds to operating costs. Managers need to plan optimal staffing, scheduling, marketing, and advertising with the calendar to achieve best results,” he says.
Speaking of advertising, the presidential election will throw another marketing curveball at retailers this fall. The heavy October and November retail marketing blitz that precedes the holidays will be overshadowed by $1 billion in combined political campaign ad spending. All that mudslinging is sure to put at least a temporary damper on the impact of retail marketing. ShopperTrak data tells us that consumerism typically takes a dive the week prior to national elections (it noted a 6.3% decline in shopping activity the week prior to the 2008 election), but that it rebounds once the votes are in. Retail marketers will do well to think strategically about their ad schedules and content this fall, lest they fall victim to getting lost in the shuffle of the record-setting Obama and Romney ad buys.