Holiday Shopping Trends Start Now (Craig Douglass On Consumers)

by Craig Douglass  on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 12:00 am  

Craig Douglass

Marketers call it a seasonal time period. Consumers call it a sale. And August is that time of year when just about everything is focused on back-to-school shopping, driven by a seasonal sale that promotes a compelling reason to buy.

Whether you’re a family with school-age children, a college student or just a smart shopper, back-to-school — BTS — means making the most of every dollar for everything from school supplies and clothes to shoes, appliances and furniture. Consumer research indicates that BTS shoppers are most interested in getting more for less. They expect it. That’s why smart retailers should be launching their best promotions right now, during August.

You’ve heard of soft openings for restaurants and other retail-related venues. Well, consider BTS a soft opening or pre-promotion period for holiday shopping. (Hobby Lobby already has Christmas items on display, for gosh sakes!) The fact is, seasonal time periods get earlier and earlier, now butting one promotion adjacent to the next, without a gap. Marketers just won’t let consumers up for air. That summer clearance immediately gave way to BTS. Did you notice?

Leading up to July, Google tells us its research indicates 65 percent of BTS shoppers use July to “research and plan purchases,” compared with 35 percent who intend to purchase in July. Then when August hits, they set their plans in frantic motion.

Those who track actual sales year in and year out say the peak BTS shopping day last year was Wednesday, Aug. 28 — a “Black Friday” of sorts. They project the peak days this year will be Wednesday, Aug. 27, and Thursday, Aug. 28. But recently, shoppers have tended to create a two-pronged approach to this season before the season, all on their own. In fact, in the clothing and accessories categories, there seems to be a first wave in early to mid-August and then a slight lull until school actually starts. The second wave occurs after Labor Day (which this year is as early as possible, on Monday, Sept. 1), as soon as school kids get a good look at what everyone else is wearing, then rush to match the trends they see firsthand. Peer pressure promotion!

The economy continues to recover, and unemployment is moving in the right direction. Consequently, shoppers most likely will spend more this August season, although the staples of school supplies, clothes and shoes will continue to garner a great majority of the spending.

Consumer electronics, particularly personal devices like phones and tablets (mostly phones), will also play an important role in overall sales. Not only will new technologies drive incremental sales, again that ever-present peer pressure in primary and secondary schools will make sure “my kid has the latest gadget.” (Research indicates dads of millennial-age youth, those born since the mid- to late 1980s, stress the importance for their children to have the “right” school supplies, electronics and fashion.)

Social media today are helping set seasonal trends. The various social media platforms that key brands are using aid in not only setting the trends by connecting a wide variety and diversity of consumers, but showcase the culture and what’s hot and what’s not.

Those social media platforms that brands are using most to connect with consumers include Facebook (86 percent), Instagram (14 percent), YouTube (59 percent), LinkedIn (54 percent), Twitter (86 percent), Google+ (35 percent) and Pinterest (37 percent). All of these enable either the brand or the user to network, promote or share. If you’re a marketer and you’re not using one or more of these platforms, top-line sales and market share could ultimately suffer.

BTS is not just for school anymore. A wide range of sales, promotions and markdowns occurs during the August period. And August starts the nonstop selling season that ends with post-holiday sales after Christmas. The store decorations may change, but the strategy is the same: Get a jump on every selling season in order to build brand loyalty by rewarding consumers who are willing to jump right along with you. Happy holidays!

Craig Douglass is an advertising agency owner and marketing and research consultant. He is president of Little Rock-based Craig Douglass Communications Inc. Email him at



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