It was the last weekend before Christmas! Music Fa La Las through the air. Smiling associates everywhere! And an entire consumer spending industry held its breath to see if shoppers will finally open their wallets.

Outside of car dealerships, its had to think of a more desperate segment than brick and mortar retailing. In today’s one-click shopping, iTunes, free-shipping world, we know good old brick and mortar will only thrive when it delights its customers and consistently delivers its brand promise. With that in mind, I headed out to the indoor mall and the mega-strips surrounding it to see how holiday 2009 translates in the store .

First stop: Dicks Sporting Goods. Note the (yawn) tree at the door with the (yawn – sorry) red balls. I guess this is supposed to … What? Remind me why I am here. Sorry, Dicks, this this looks exactly like the tree in my bank lobby and all it is reinforcing with me is that I need to Swiffer at home because the dust on these plastic bulbs is at least 1/8 inch thick. Are you telling me with all the fishing bobbers, golf balls, hockey pucks and ski masks in your stores you couldn’t find anything more creative to do to reinforce your brand and make me smile?

And that’s my point.

Read on for more examples of brands that insult their customers with sad, tacky, cliche “holiday decor” that with just a modicum of creative effort could delightfully deliver a wink to its customers that reinforces the brand and stays respectful of the holiday season. As Marketers and Merchandisers, we focus on these critical 5-6 weeks all year long. Why, then, is there such a big MISS in creating brand-right decor that differentiates and delivers personality?

Here’s Games By James:
along with Northern Tool + Equipment, Petco, Perkins Restaurants, Brueggers Bagels and Harley-Davidson, they all fell victim to “Garland makes everything festive.” How can tinsel garland be right for brands this diverse??? Let me loose with a glue gun, a wreath form and a monopoly game, chess set and a deck of cards and I’ll show you how to make a relevant holiday statement and make your customers smile. Imagine what Petco could have done to make fun holiday messaging with Greenies, cat toys and ID tags.

When did restaurants start wrapping their wall signs as presents?

Is it a gift to me that I don’t have to read that I get 13 bagels for the price of 12 or that you cater and deliver? Isn’t now when you have high holiday traffic when you want to make sure that your casual customers are exposed to these messages?

Please. Just. Stop. It.

Please don’t say it’s a lack of budget. It’s a lack of creativity. Money is or was spent on this tacky ric-rac and some hourly associate taped or strung it up. A budget-minded visual merchant can create a kit of parts that slowly grows year after year to build the brand.
What’s the solution?

In a few weeks every retailer worth its salt will do a holiday 2009 post mortem. Question your visual merchants about the permanent holiday decor. Not the four-color window clings that are already in a landfill in January. Ask about the wreaths, the garland, the lights, the ornaments that are boxed up in a back room to gather dust at your customer service counter year after year. Tell them you want those pieces redesigned to be permanent assets of the brand. Tell them they have until March 1 to design and source them. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to get them produced inexpensively and shipped into your stores next fall.

If brick and mortar survives, it will be because customers choose to let it survive. Give your customers a reason to love shopping in your stores.

TOMORROW: EQUAL TIME: Retailers who got holiday trim right (with pictures!)

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