Skip to Main Content

Merchandising for the Holidays

Everyone has a favourite holiday movie. Mine’s the lovely story about a family forgetting their youngest child at home when they leave on a long overseas vacation and the forgotten child defends the family home from deranged burglars.

I’m also a fan of the one where a neighbour plans a city-wide heist and breaks into every house in town in a single night. Or the one where John McLean saves a group of people (for the first of many times on screen).

I’m being facetious, but the fact is, I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking “Home Alone”, “The Grinch”, and “Die Hard” are holiday movies. The stories don’t necessarily scream “holiday”, but the setting of each film draws the viewer into that world and ensures the positive vibes of the holidays are felt by the end. Not surprisingly, this has a material impact on the long-term profitability of each project.

Theming for the Holidays

What are the holidays all about? What do they mean? What factors need to be present for something to be considered “holiday themed”? I don’t believe there are any incorrect answers to the questions, though I’m willing to bet some of the top list of things you thought of on the holiday question are: time with family/friends; big meals; and presents—specifically the gift wrapping/unwrapping. Digging in further, there will likely be specific colours used for lights and decorations, specific smells that emanate from candles and cooking, and specific sounds in the air.

Make every element feel like it is the holidays.

“Home Alone” came out in 1990 and I’ve watched it almost every year since. Not until Netflix featured it in “The Movies That Made Us”, did I recognize how little this film had to do with the holidays, despite it being universally considered a holiday film. But why? The main film set is a home that was built in an abandoned Chicago suburb school gymnasium: much of the same set as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Uncle Buck”—neither of which are considered holiday films. The secret: wrapping paper. The production crew did all they could to make every element of the home reminiscent of gift wrapping: from the bed sheets to the wallpaper to the colours of the countertops. Meanwhile, also ensuring snow was ever present and there was an abundance of bells and holiday music. Every element of the home made you feel like it was the holidays, even though the core elements of the story could have been set at any time of year. Thus, instead of us thinking of “Home Alone” as the ultimate home defence movie, we think of it as a holiday classic. Meaning, instead of us enjoying it once and being done with it, as many did with “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Uncle Buck”, “Home Alone” has converted the reported ~$18mm production budget into >$475mm in box office and royalty revenue since its debut.

Holiday Merchandising

How does this tie to retail? The impact of a holiday setting doesn’t end when the theatre curtains close. I’d bet that the average guest during the 7:30am-9:00am rush at their local Starbucks is more focused on knocking back their $5.00 combination of caffeine and sugar before their first meeting of the day, than they are about holiday cheer. BUT, because of how the cafe is decorated, the scent of cinnamon in the air, and seeing how those beautifully decorated holiday cups somehow match the music playing, when asked if they’d like to upgrade to the Peppermint Mocha and add a treat, a guest is subconsciously already contemplating how much better their morning would be with one of these upgrades. Holiday merchandising at its finest: everyone leaves the interaction happier than they were before, while that well-trained team member working the cash feels supported in his/her role of salesperson, given the cafe environment created the perfect set-up for an upsell.

Starbucks has also mastered the pomp and circumstance around releasing limited edition versions of their cups around the holidays to help patrons get in the holiday spirit. There are literally fan pages following Starbucks Holiday Cups. For anyone that has been in a Starbucks during the holiday season, it’s clear the organization fully embraces this mentality and it’s unquestionably a lovely experience. When the limited-edition cups are released, guests yearn to buy part of that experience in a similar manner to someone re-watching an old holiday film: it brings them back to simpler times.

Options for Gift Exchanges

Now, what of the family/friends/colleague gatherings and inherent gift exchanges that accompany these social endeavours? What if you draw a name of someone you’re unsure what to buy for? Thankfully, good retailers have our backs: since there’s generally a dollar limit on the purchase of items for the gift exchange to ensure everything is fair, the holidays are the time of year that everyone from the liquor store to Marshalls to Starbucks has price point lead gift ideas: “Find that perfect gift at $xx!” This has the same impact on shoppers when they’re headed to dinners where they don’t know what to bring but know they need something to offer their host.

Cannabis Retail Is Retail

It’s well known and widely accepted that cannabis consumption increases at any time people are spending time with family and friends. Since the holidays involve increased family/friend time, cannabis consumption increases and cannabis retail store traffic increases accordingly. As with most products being purchased around the holidays, the actual cannabis generally remains the same as it is the rest of the year, but the environment in which it’s being consumed may be slightly enhanced. The best stores emulate other great retail examples and ensure the ambiance subliminally tells the guest it is the holiday season by ensuring the right scents are in the air, the right music is playing, and the right decorations are on display. It’s fair to say that we can’t all be “Buddy the Elf” in Gimbels but wrapping empty boxes and neatly placing them around the store shows a baseline effort has been made to enhance the experience. If guests are already thinking about their upcoming holiday get together, these hints will work to put them in an even better mood.

Ensure the ambiance subliminally tells the guest it is the holiday season.

In this beautiful environment, guests might have something very specific that they’re looking to purchase. But then they see an accessory at a specific price point that fits the holiday exchange they’ve been putting off preparing for—boom, let’s have that. At the cash, after they’ve confirmed the intended order plus their exchange winning gift, they’re reminded of a different format product that could pair well with a big family dinner, maybe a beverage or edible or vape? At this point, in an entirely positive state of mind, they may be more willing to see how this product is the cherry on top of their holiday.

It’s not any single element that made “Home Alone” into a holiday classic or made the Holiday Cups from Starbucks the thing everyone and their mom is proud to post on social media annually. It’s a compilation of acts and prompts and settings that help to put us in a good mood, potentially being more open to new opportunities. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

David Côté is a retail expert who has created multiple retail brands and operating models: Founder of Northern Helm; COO of J. Supply Co; Co-founder of Kind House Brands.

Tags: cannabis gift giving (2), Cannabis Retail (360), cannabis store merchandising (1), gift exchanges (1), holiday marketing (1), retail merchandising (1), theming for the holidays (1)