Christmas Retail: Boom or Bust


I guess it depends on what you read, what you view and with whom you talk. Most experts feel this Christmas retail season was not up to expectations and they may be right. It’s always an odd year when Thanksgiving is early and people “wait” for Christmas. So, the crush of “oh my gosh, I need to shop” happened and didn’t happen (again depending on where you get your news). For me, I come at things a bit differently and have a different perspective.

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Here goes — in my humble opinion, excellent retailers had a great Christmas. Retailers who were just doing business as usual had a bad one. Unfortunately, there are more mediocre to lousy retailers than there are good ones.

Let me illustrate my point.

  1. On-line retailers seemed to have a super Christmas. I’ve read some reports that give double-digit growth. The BBC reported that there was a 50% increase in on-line sales in England. Let’s face it, it’s so convenient to buy on-line, there’s selection, fast shipping and very few hassles if you choose your retailers wisely.
  2. Specialty stores carried the day. I visited several specialty stores before and after Christmas and business was booming. Our local Apple store was packed. in Golf Galaxy I had to wait in line to get a question answered (when I bought my new/Christmas putter). I’ve blogged several times about Chico’s and they remain a favorite and must of had a booming Christmas (at least two local stores I visited told me they were seeing tremendous sales and up from last year). Another specialty store, Jared Jewelry told me that they had a record November and were on track for similar results in December. So big wins for specialty stores (and if you are a specialty retailer and had a weak Christmas selling season maybe it’s time to learn from some of these stores and copy their success formula).
  3. Gift Cards. Everywhere I turn people have gift cards. They have become one of the easiest and best gifts for most shoppers. Gift card sales are way up which accounts, in part, for merchandise sales being down. Look for the next few months and if you are a retailer, make sure you stay in stock of core items. Those gift-card-totiing customers will want to redeem them and not wait for you to get back in stock.
  4. Department stores were down to flat. Certain items (higher end items at Nordstrom’s for example) did well, but overall the “look alike” department stores were flat to down. They need to shake things up.

So, I think this retail Christmas season was good for those who gave great service, had stores that offered not just fair prices (it’s not always about low prices), but also gave the customer tremendous experience and product selection.

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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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