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Last week, there was a poll published by Ad Week that evaluated how early Americans think retailers should begin their end-of-year holiday advertising - eight percent of Americans think that Christmas advertising should begin after Labor Day, 42 percent say that after Halloween is most appropriate, and 35 percent say that marketers should wait until after Thanksgiving.

Well, Sears seems to have reached its own conclusion in this matter...and began pre-Halloween to promote Friday specials and early Saturday openings that it equates with the high drama and low prices of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving on which the Christmas shopping season traditionally begins with expanded hours and deep discounts.

Sears hardly is alone in trying to drive early holiday traffic through its front doors. Walmart already is advertising popular holiday toys for $10 apiece, and is engaged in a online price war with Amazon and Target over bestseller book prices. And Reuters reports that Walmart has launched a second round of price cuts on toys, slashing prices in 100 popular toys by between 20 and 30 percent.

All of this tumult seems to reflect the widely held anticipation that the holiday shopping season isn’t going to be a merry time for a lot of retailers, with overall retail sales expected to be flat - at best.
KC's View:
It’s interesting. There was a study put out last week by an organization called the Buxbaum Group, described as a “consulting and turnaround investment firm, that specifically addressed the end of year holiday shopping season and how retailers should position themselves.

"In general," said Stevan Buxbaum, executive vice president of the firm, "consumers are still focused on price and value. The winners will be those chains that have the guts to slash prices the most. Eking out a profit in this environment requires highly rationalized SG&A (selling, general and administrative) costs and lower overhead. Wal-Mart is No. 1 in that regard, followed by the warehouse clubs and Target. Everybody else is in the rearview mirror."

Buxbaum said that the top one percent of richest Americans might unwrap a MacBook Pro or find a Lexis SUV parked in the driveway, but the vast majority of shoppers will have a very different holiday this year: "We have gone from the 'aspirational' shopper--people who spent beyond their means for the sake of status or the sheer thrill--to the 'desperational'
shopper. Now, most people are just trying to find value."

But I believe that the “aspirational” shoppers of the past have not lost their aspirations, and that most of them are not “desperational.” Maybe I’m too upbeat about this, but I think that a retailing approach - and ad advertising campaign - that actually focuses on helping people achieve their aspirations at a lower cost, or in a way that satisfies both their sense of value and values, could be an smart way to go. Not the only way, certainly, but a way that does not encourage lowest common denominator thinking.