Shopping the Day After Christmas: Doing More Than Deals

It is the day after Christmas and my initial plans involved spending the day in beat up pants and slippers, indulging in a cigar and diving into my new Steven Pinker book.  Not a bad day.  But the operative word in all of this is “involved” – the past tense.  It turns out that while I will be able to do a bit of this, shopping is also on the agenda.  And I am far from alone. Between gift exchanges, product returns and shoppers (members of my immediate family included) eager to redeem gift cards, the day after Christmas has become a very busy day for retailers.

Last year, the day after Christmas obviously fell on a Sunday.  While blue laws are largely a thing of the past, there are still parts of the country where stores don’t open or have limited hours on Sunday.  Add to that the fact that Sunday is traditionally a day for family time for a large portion of the population, and the limitations to draw people into a store become clear. But retailers are under no such constraints this year. At the same time, many people still have the day after Christmas off from work. This adds up to making a prime shopping day.

In a survey released recently by American Express, 57% of Americans said they planned on shopping on December 26. That’s a 14% jump over last year.  Of those surveyed, more than 1 in 5 said  they’ll be cashing in gift cards, while 36% will be buying gifts for themselves. This is hardly surprising when you consider that the gift card has become a pivotal element in most of our last-minute shopping agendas (I myself picked up several when I ran into the wall of shopping fatigue).  And while I am predisposed to think of gift cards as a clear indication of a lack of imagination, this is my own bias and one that hardly applies to the rest of the world.  So, armed with cards, people are ready to break free from the confines of their homes and buy those things they really want in lieu of that reindeer sweater they received.

Granted, part of the post-Christmas shopping is a byproduct of the economy. Millions of Americans decided to delay some of their Christmas spending this year because of a lack of money or uncertainty about the economy in the new year. Some have postponed gift exchanges while others just wanted to wait to take advantage of the huge discounts widely available in the days and weeks after Christmas. Everyone, after all, loves a good deal.  But the deal is only part the attraction.

The day after Christmas has become a day for many people to break out of the confines of a house swimming in scattered toys, torn wrapping paper and a seemingly endless river of leftover ham. For example, it is a major day for theaters, as people swarm the local Cineplex. There is a significant spike in restaurant sales as people look for a healthier alternative to mashed potatoes and less dehydrating experience than the afore mentioned ham. So, yes, people are looking for those things they didn’t find under the tree, but they are also looking for entertainment, release from normative family obligations and a bit of indulgence.

And this is where the brick and mortar shopping experience becomes just that, an experience. No doubt, big box stores will see a spike in sales as people look for those deals, but the same will hold true for retailers that offer a bit more. Locations with a café or shopping-focused entertainment (e.g. personalized augmented reality applications for that new Christmas iPad) will keep people in the store longer and sell more products. Manufacturers that partner with retailers to place merchandise in areas of the store where they will be “found” by people looking to outdo the rest of the mobs with their shopping prowess will sell more of their goods – shoppers see themselves as skilled hunters and foragers, so to speak, improving their moods by making them feel superior. Retailers that make people feel good about the shopping experience help combat the fears people have about the economy after such an extended period of uncertainty.

The point is simple.  We know shopping will be big today. As such, it makes sense to think about how best to capitalize on that behavior.  Sales are a driver, perhaps THE driver, but the fiscal benefits are not enough.  There is more to shopping than getting your stuff. If you have a strategy that speaks to the deeper cultural patterns and psychological need as of shoppers, the better you’ll do and the more you’ll make.


Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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