I was walking through a large retail store today and they were taking down all the Independence Day paraphernalia to replace them with sales goods themed around Labor Day. It made me sad. I could not help but view it as a metaphor for our short-term, time’s up world of commerce in which we so quickly move to the next merchandisable event instead of savoring the meaning and message of the particular holiday.

The predicable occurrence is a lot like how early stores decorate for Christmas. The bad boy in me has been known to sarcastically ask a store clerk, “Are these displays for this Christmas or Christmas a year from now?” Don’t get me wrong, I know how much of a retail store’s annual sales are driven by holiday events. However, I wonder if in the mind of the customer it might too often communicate, “We don’t care about you, just your credit card.”

So, what is the antidote to generating holiday-based sales without alienating customers? How can retailers effectively promote without seeming like callous hucksters? The secret is not with more outreach, it is with what I call greater in reach—the creation of a relationship that makes customers feel they are within the reach of the employees of the organization.   

  • Ask customers for their suggestions. Don’t just rely on your marketing team to turn displays into decorations. Create a giant suggestion box at check-out that makes idea generation unique and fun. Suggestion boxes work when customers experience they matter. Post the suggestions and indicate the ones you plan to use.
  • Start a contest with customer contributions. One retail store in Hartford invited  customers to fashion holiday decorations using photos of their children. The next year they turned it into a contest and created a blue-ribbon panel of local dignitaries to judge the winners whose decorations were displayed in the store. 
  • Scout the community for customers with special talents who can create a homemade display. A Home Depot store in Marathon, FL found a customer who made model trains with little villages as a hobby. They commissioned him to do a giant display at Christmas that included a miniature Home Depot in the tiny railroad village.

People care when they share. Holidays don’t have to be commercial overload that is all hype and no heart. It takes imagination and planning. But the payoff is a marketplace with a sense of community and compassion, not materialism and greed.