How Soon Is Too Soon for Holiday Promotions?


As I approached my local Starbucks on Sunday, I felt a burst of joy when I saw a fellow patron leaving the café carrying an iconic red holiday cup. Just seeing the cup gave me an instant jolt of nostalgia and joy. However, just a few days earlier, I was extremely irked when Best Buy ran a Christmas ad during my favorite Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus. Why did these two similar experiences, which occurred just days a part, evoke such differing reactions? We’ve all heard the phrase, “timing is everything,” and that is especially true with holiday promotions. Too soon and you run the risk of annoying your customers; too late and you’ll miss out on holiday sales. So what is the sweet spot for holiday promotions?

Traditional Tenants

Traditionally, all talk of the winter holidays was save until the Thanksgiving meal had been eaten, the wishbone broken, and the big game watched. Any mention of Christmas trees or holiday wish lists was strongly discouraged. However, we are seeing decorations, lights, festive food products, and more creep into stores earlier and earlier each year. Should small and medium sized businesses stick with the traditional tenant of waiting until Black Friday to premier promotions for the holidays or should they follow the lead of national brands?

Modern Models

The modern model for holiday promotions leaves much more to the business owner’s discretion than the traditional rule allows. Just as some people can’t get enough pumpkin in the fall while others believe it is overdone, consumers disagree on the appropriate time to anticipate and get excited for the holidays. It is best to strike a balance between being the overeager toddler who wakes the whole house up at four on Christmas morning and being the jaded teen who rolls out of bed at one in the afternoon having missed all of the festivities. Finding this sweet spot requires planning, and a bit of intuition.

Prompt Planning

Waiting until after Thanksgiving to rollout holiday promotions is especially difficult this year given that there are just 26 shopping days between Turkey Day and Christmas this year. The solution? View Black Friday as a separate holiday deserving promotion in its own right and plan targeted promotions for different customer segments.

  • The Black Friday Cheat:

    Black Friday shopping is becoming more hectic each year, with many retailers opening their doors on Thanksgiving days. The hype behind this shopping day allows you to “cheat” and sneak your holiday promotions out before Thanksgiving, disguised as information regarding Black Friday. Just be sure to keep specific holiday messaging and imagery to a minimum – keep the focus on Black Friday!

  • Targeted Campaigns:

    Penny may be a procrastinator when it comes to holiday gift shopping, but Sally likes to check all of the items off of her list early so she can focus on spending time with her family during this season. Don’t approach such differing customers with the same promotions at the same time! Crafting targeted campaigns for each group will allow you to begin discussing the holidays sooner, as you will be speaking directly to early birds who want to get their shopping out of the way as soon as possible. You can follow up with ads, eblasts and social media posts speaking to last minute shoppers later in the season.

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