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Too Soon? How Shoppers Really Feel About Your Seasonal Displays

It’s that time again. The holidays are upon us, and if you’re in the retail space, that means a bulk of your yearly sales could happen in the next few months. Are you ready?

In a bid to say “Yes! I am definitely ready!” it seems that retailers are ramping up their seasonal marketing earlier every year, with holiday displays making appearances in October, September, and August.

The results appear to be worth it, at least on the surface. At the end of the 2017 holiday season, Mastercard SpendingPulse released a report that found retail sales increased 4.9 percent year-over-year, the largest annual uptick since 2011.

However, there are a lot of factors at play behind holiday sales, and the timing of seasonal displays is certainly one of the hot-button issues. When are displays appearing in stores? How do shoppers feel about that? And importantly, what are they doing when they see displays and does that have an effect on those strong yearly sales numbers?

Let’s find out.

When Does Holiday Shopping Happen?

We recently leaned on our network of mystery shoppers to find out how they felt about seasonal displays. After more than 1,400 responses, we learned a few things about what retailers are doing in advance of the major holiday shopping season.

First, we wanted to see when people shopped for the holidays. Naturally, most people—34 percent of respondents—do the bulk of their shopping around Black Friday. Early November was in second place, at 22 percent, and then the percentages drop off from there. Other popular times include early December and late October. Only 3 percent of consumers shop in late December. Good for them.

Regarding Thanksgiving, most did their meal-prep the week before Thanksgiving (43 percent) while 21 percent waited until the week of to prepare.

A majority of shoppers expect Halloween displays in August, but only 11% want to see them at that time.

When Are Seasonal Displays Expected?

Consumers follow fairly expected timeframes when it comes to their shopping habits. Can we say the same about retailers and their seasonal displays?

Our mystery shoppers expect retailers to set up their Halloween displays in August, according to 56 percent of the survey group. Most of the shoppers—42 percent—expect holiday displays to first appear in October.

However, when consumers expect displays is not the same as being happy to see them.

For example, 56 percent expect Halloween displays in August. When asked when they thought displays should start? Sixty-four percent said September. Only 11 percent wanted displays in August, even though they fully expected to be greeted with a Halloween display when they visited a store.

Looking at the holiday season, remember that 42 percent expected displays in October. What percentage thought they should start in October? Just 18 percent. Instead, 67 percent would rather their holiday displays begin in November. And don’t forget about Thanksgiving, either. Many shoppers agreed that this holiday is overlooked by retailers and instead skipped over to go right from Halloween to Christmas and Hanukkah.

The bottom line is that overall, 79 percent believe seasonal displays are too early.

halloween display pumpkin

How Do Shoppers React to a Seasonal Display?

So then, what do shoppers do when they come across a seasonal display before they’re ready? They don’t just turn around and leave, do they?

Yes, in some cases they do. Of the mystery shoppers, 11 percent who feel displays are too early don’t buy from that store and go somewhere else. They often describe themselves as annoyed, stressed, or confused.

Displays don’t seem to have that much of an effect, either. Within the too-early crowd, 82 percent ignore the displays and wait until their preferred time to make a purchase, instead of being swayed by the display to buy now. Only 7 percent buy right away!

Those who feel displays are too late—only 1 percent of shoppers overall—are either already done with their seasonal shopping or don’t change their shopping behavior based on displays. Only 18 percent see the displays and start buying right away to make up for lost time.

11% of mystery shoppers who feel displays are too early don’t buy from that store.

Do Retailers Have the Right Approach?

The big question is whether retailers have the right approach to seasonal displays. The answer is yes and no. Yes, in that seasonal display timing only drives away a small percentage of shoppers, and seasonal sales numbers are strong year-over-year.

No in the sense that the majority of the mystery shoppers we asked believe seasonal displays are just too early. Many also feel that Thanksgiving isn’t given its due. They are annoyed, stressed, and confused by the timing of displays, and either walk away from that store or don’t change their shopping habits.

Want to make sure you have the right approach to your seasonal displays? Connect with Wiser to access a wide range of market intelligence, from pricing to promotions and your in-store displays.

Matt Ellsworth

Matt is the Content Marketing Manager at Wiser, the leading provider of actionable data for better decisions. He holds a BA from Salem State University.

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