So, here is part of the conundrum. During your busiest times of the year, do you obscure your selection and downplay the perception of value in your store by putting emphasis on holiday decorations? Does doing so create a perception of “high density” by adding displays and stackouts, all of which might prove to be detrimental to sales?
It’s a really good question and one that has to be answered on a case-by-case basis, but in my experience at crowded New York City stores, the answer is probably yes. Too much is added to the store, distracting from the true strengths and in many cases disguising the weaknesses.
One last point to be made is that I am generally a regular visitor to these stores, while during the holiday, retailers experience a surge of new and one-off shoppers. Once again, according to a study published by the Association for Consumer Research:
“Compared to regular customers, new customers of a store may rely more heavily on the tangible cues provided by a store environment in evaluating the service and the merchandise of the store as the new customers may have little knowledge or experience about the other attributes of the store“
Your new consumers are less able to cut through the clutter and make a realistic appraisal of your store if you significantly alter your shopping experience for the holidays.
I’m no crotchety old man, at least not when it comes to the holidays, but I do think it’s too easy to get carried away with in-store decorations and forget what we do best. Retail is and always will be based on providing selection, value and service to consumers. The holidays give us all a chance to have some fun and express our joy for the season, but the takeaway from all the research I’ve looked at is simple.
To summarize, you should enhance your shoppers’ experiences, but in a way that doesn’t obscure your strengths. I know we didn’t need several studies to tell us that, sometimes common sense can be very sensible, but it’s always nice to have a little confirmation.

For a more indepth analysis of the negative implications of in-store clutter, namely negative impressions, ad avoidance, decreased name recognition, reduced attention and shopper confusion, check out Margot Myers’s succinctly written summary “In-Store Advertising Competes for Consumer Attention” at the Platt Retail Institute Resource Library.