50 Shades of Black
So much has happened over the past few weeks: A presidential election, a monster storm in the Northeast, the World Series, a man named Angus being elected to the United States Senate.
So, of course, all of this raises the question every single person in this industry wants to ask: How is business going to be this Christmas?
It's only a few short weeks until the official start of the holiday shopping. In fact, we all know that shoppers are out there all the time and that increasingly the busiest days of the retail cycle are much, much closer to the Big Day itself.
That said, this year's version is likely to have its own special characteristics. Among them:
1. The Election is Finally Over. It really seemed as if most of the country was on hold waiting for Nov. 6 to pass and there's a strong argument to be made that the paralysis of the fall will be replaced with out-and-out enthusiasm in December.
2. ...Unless We Fall off the Fiscal Cliff. Whoever thought of this phrase should go into copywriting because it's a beauty. The financial deadlines set by Congress for the end of the year are the $800 billion elephant in the room. If things are addressed - or more likely kicked down the road until 2013 - people will be feeling pretty good. If this looms over the entire shopping season, it's not going to be pretty.
3. The Back-to-School Results are Useless. Every year people try to make a case that the shopping done around the return to the school season is indicative of holiday trends. And every year that turns out to be utterly ridiculous. Labor Day was a long, long time ago - see Number 1 - and it don't mean a thing 'cause the consumer didn't have a swing back in September.
4. Online, Online, Online. It used to be all about location, location, location. But now it's the strength of the Internet that will be the defining characteristic of successful retailers, especially for holiday. Amazon's huge head start on everyone else is still in place and the rest of the retail world continues to play catch-up.
5. Penny Whistling. JCP - the retailer formerly known as J.C. Penney - remains the wild card this season. Will they deviate from RonJon's predetermined course or will they stick with the program and pay the consequences of being irrelevant in the promotional tidal wave sure to engulf December? What happens will impact the rest of the middle market in many ways.
6. Please White Out Black Friday references...Somebody Please. The first Black Friday promotions started running last spring. They are going to build to a fever pitch the next two weeks and then they will only get worse as the adjective "black" is applied to anything that doesn't move in retailing. It's enough already.
Time to fade to black...