By: Emily Higgins and Gaby Basok

It has snuck up on us again. This year we have a few valid excuses like the World Series (Cubs Win!!! Hooray!), the warmer weather and the election.  You may have seen the decorations on display in stores without realizing that Christmas is only 32 days, 8 hours, 59 minutes and 58 seconds away (even less now that you’re reading this!) and with an average of 20% of their annual sales on the line, you can bet your favorite Big Box retailer knows the time down to the millisecond.  Over these next 32 days, they are laser focused on maximizing the amount of time that you will spend with them this holiday season.

Your Time In-Store Is Not Enough

Shopping online for its convenience, lower prices and crowd-avoidance (among many other reasons) is a norm today and the holiday season is no different. The industry has moved way beyond Cyber Monday –  think omnichannel.  A retailer will need to meet your needs anywhere, anytime.  Want to shop at home and pick up in-store? Done!  Want free shipping to home ? Done!  Want to shop on your phone and have half your order delivered in 30 minutes, 3 items shipped to your sister in Atlanta, and be able to pick up a doll-house in-store on Saturday?  Done, done, and done (if you can pay the price).

For Big Box retailers, Amazon can no longer be the online shopping go-to. It is critical to offer a seamless shopping experience between in-store, online, and mobile devices so that retailers can interact with shoppers across multiple touchpoints this holiday seasons. In the past few years, holiday omnichannel efforts have picked up substantially with shipping conveniences, mobile coupons and interactive interfaces for kids to enjoy. “It’s very clear to us that retailers that are leading in the e-commerce space are starting to win a bigger share of the consumer wallet,” says Steve Barr, U.S. retail and consumer practice leader for PwC. And we know how important money is to our clients.

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Thanksgiving Is Actually All About Christmas

Christmas is 32 days out (from when this was published), but right now you may be focusing in on your post-Thanksgiving search for the best Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday doorbusters. For Big Box retailers, holiday shopping has evolved from kicking off at Black Friday to extending earlier and earlier each year. Now, it has stretched out to become a 3-4 month long holiday event for shoppers.

Even shopping on Thanksgiving is no longer off-limits: 5AM Black Friday openings crept up to midnight, then it was 3pm on Thanksgiving, then open all-day Thanksgiving.  Now, retailers push their toy catalogs to be sent in late October to create hype for Black Friday sales.

The Black Friday strategy continues to evolve year after year. After companies received backlash last year for compromising the emotional and family-oriented integrity of the Thanksgiving holiday, stores like HHGregg and Office Depot, as well as the Mall of America, are closing their doors for Thanksgiving this year (though, if we’re being honest, the limited incremental sales rather than the touchy-feely emotions of the season may really be the key culprits for this “revolt.”)

Super Saturday(s) > Black Friday

Let’s pause for a second – we’ve been putting all our attention on Black Friday and the days on and around Thanksgiving. Think those Big Box retailers are just worrying about Black Friday? Think again. One industry consultant accurately pinpointed that the holiday shopping season has taken on an “earlier-later-longer-bigger-is-better” mentality. After Thanksgiving, you can count on weekly sales, culminating in TWO 2016 Super Saturdays (December 17th and December 24th), which for some of the largest U.S. retail chains like Walmart, Target, Costco, Kroger, and Home Depot, are even more important than Black Friday.  Retailers are banking on (literally and figuratively) last minute shoppers, desperate for inspiration and guidance. Stores like Toys R’ Us and Kohl’s, for example, will stay open 24 hours in the week leading up to Christmas. Amazon knows its Prime shipping will come in handy the week leading up to Christmas. The holiday season is not only about winning the big promotion days, like Black Friday, but about pulling in shoppers early and capitalizing on those who tend to procrastinate.

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All I Want For Christmas Is…February Planning

By January, you will likely breathe a huge sigh of relief. You would have made it through Black Friday without getting trampled. Despite your busy schedule, you would have managed to buy and wrap presents for your entire family – including that crazy aunt you only see around the holidays. You survived and hopefully even enjoyed the holiday season. Now you can relax until next year.

But it’s not over for Big Box retailers. While you may not be thinking about Christmas from January to September, retailers start their planning and purchasing for the following holiday season as early as February. Shoppers may be taking down outdoor lights and throwing away dying Christmas trees, but retailers are taking a magnifying glass to every week, even day, of the previous holiday season to build on it for next year. For them, the holiday season continues long after the calendar says it ends.

Without Consumers, Holiday Shopping Doesn’t Exist

Holiday shoppers are what make the holiday season, while this may seem obvious, it may not be as obvious as you think. These Big Box retailers who spend the entire year planning for the holiday season rely on so many resources to inform their holiday strategy – past year trends, upcoming forecasts, weather reports, sales data, advertising effectiveness – that they quickly can get swallowed up in doing their research and forget about the consumer. Where Ipsos is able to step in is by helping retailers understand the holiday season through the consumer lens, rather than the retailer lens. Consumer data helps retailers get at the “so what?” The “why” behind the behaviors that we’re seeing. The ability to understand why tradition and strong emotional holiday ties sometimes drive purchase decisions, even if they don’t seem to be the most logical.

So, 32 days….our retail friends have their holiday plans together – do you?