Fourth-quarter holidays and events used to be simpler and a lot less expensive.
That's before merchants claimed the fourth quarter to generate 25% to 40% of their annual revenues, and commercialism extended seasonal selling.
In times past, back-to-school was about anticipation and less about buying the latest fashion trend.
Halloween was about kids' fun activities — making a costume, carving a pumpkin, innocent trick-or-treats — and less about turning your front yard into a Universal Studios horror lot to keep up with the Jones' spectacle down the block.
Thanksgiving was about sharing wholesome food — all home-baked — with family and friends and less about gourmet-catered meals.
Christmas, well, it was never supposed to be all about gift giving.
Enter fourth-quarter 2009. Something has radically changed. Consumers have a lot less money to spend and most are anxious about their future.
As we saw from last year's retail sales, consumers have hunkered down. It won't be easy to pry open shoppers' purse strings any time soon.
In looking at September same-store-sales figures reported by big-store merchants last week, analysts are now calling “flat” and “smaller than expected declines” good news. The National Retail Federation projects a 1% drop in Christmas sales.
So what should food retailers, who didn't fare that badly last season, be doing to spur any pent-up consumer spending?
Think simpler times, the true spirit of giving and charities, who desperately need all the help they can get this year.
Supermarkets are well aware of local and national anti-hunger organizations like Food for All, which was born out of the food industry, and Feeding America. The food industry has supported such organizations for years. However, the times are right to do more than ask shoppers to cough up an extra $1 or $2 at the register.
What better way to add value to shoppers' holiday purchases than to tie into a chainwide, in-store event. Checkout what Macy's has done with its “Come Together” campaign, which kicked off last month and runs through Oct. 21. Macy's kept it simple even though it is a big-spend, integrated marketing campaign endorsed by star-studded celebrities.
The campaign has three components: Host, Give, Shop. Host celebrates the return to home cooking and asks shoppers to hold fund-raising dinners with their friends in their homes. Funds raised through the dinners will be matched by Macy's $1 for $1 until the goal of 10 million meals is reached. Give means direct donations made by Macy's customers at the register. Shop is Oct. 17 when Macy's sets aside a day to shop for the anti-hunger cause. It will sell $5 donation tickets of which a portion goes to Feeding America. In turn, shoppers get special in-store savings.
Go to www.macys.com/cometogether  to experience the campaign. It represents commercialism at its best. Food retailers could use such theatrics to support their own charities this season and donate profits to the cause.
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