Before I dive head first into the topic at hand, I do have some late breaking news to share with you all. As you might know, Snooth has had our People’s Voice Awards running on site for almost two months now, and it’s scheduled to close on October 22. You can jump in and vote for your favorite wines, which is always fun, but I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know about our next People’s Voice Awards: the Epicurean Edition.

We’ll be using a similar platform to the People’s Voice Awards, except this time it will feature great recipes and wine pairings. We’re opening this up to wineries, retailers, restaurants and cookbook authors. Nominees will see their recipe pairings featured on the site and in Snooth’s daily emails, so if you have a great recipe you love and the wine to pair with it, we would love to feature you in Snooth’s People’s Voice Awards: Epicurean Edition. Just send the recipe, a great picture of the dish, and your wine pairing suggestion to

Now on to your regularly scheduled programming....
I was taking a cab up Park Avenue the other night and I noticed that the holiday decorations (I don’t think I am supposed to call them Christmas lights anymore) are already going up. This got me thinking a bit about this annual ritual. It’s one thing for the City of New York to put up Christmas lights (oops) to add a festive glow to the city’s landmarks, but what about all our friends selling at the retail level?
Does the time, effort and money going into Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah decoration actually do anything other than waste that money and time?

Surprisingly, there is not a lot of easily discoverable information on this topic. Sure, there are exhaustive studies regarding the sales of bagged coffee and boys fleeceware as it pertains to a seasonal cycle, but there was little on the effect seasonal in-store decorations have on consumer habits.
Of course, there are several presumably well-written treatises on these specific issues, but many are written for PhDs willing to dispute the Cronbach’s alpha reliability of the data rather than give actual store owners concrete advice. That is presumably left to the consulting service these PhDs peddle.

Holiday Decorations image via Shutterstock
The truth is, there wasn’t much to be found in most of the documents I read, though there was this:
“The results clearly show that store characteristics induce shoppers’ in-store emotions. Specifically, five of the seven store characteristics examined here affected shoppers positive emotions, and each of these five store characteristics affected at least one in-store emotion. When shoppers perceive that the store offers a wide product assortment and that the products offer good value, they feel positive emotions like pleasure, excitement, contentment, pride, and satisfaction. When the store personnel deliver exemplary service, shoppers feel pleased, excited, content, and attractive. Also, positive emotions like pleasure, pride, attractiveness, and contentment are observed when shoppers’ expectations of after-sales service are met. Accommodating facilities make shoppers feel pleased.

Negative emotions were also induced by store characteristics. Shoppers felt negative emotions such as anger, anxiety displeasure, and nullification when treated by an incompetent or unkind salesperson, and they felt angry, ignored, and displeased in facilitates perceived to be unaccommodating.”

I have to admit that I got a chuckle out of this summary. Instead of spending time on building this study, the author should have just worked in retail! Shoppers felt negative emotions when they encountered an incompetent or unkind salesperson, stop the presses!

Is this really research? Allow me to steal a phrase, we in retail find these truths to be self-evident. I digress. What was of note here was the first point made, that shoppers like to see a wide product assortment and that they are getting good value for their money.
Yes, this too is self-evident, but perhaps it is a warning to those who might go overboard with their holiday decorations. Too many stackouts can give the impression that you have less of a selection than you do in fact offer. There is a fine line between promoting a good deal and pimping out a close-out, and consumers are becoming more adept at discerning between it.
Another issue involved in holiday displays is the effect they have on the perceived crowdedness of your store. We tend to think that a busy store encourages people to buy, but once again, according to the experts at the Association for Consumer Research:
“Under a high density (crowded, why can’t these people use English?) condition task-oriented shoppers experience more crowding (ah, finally) and less satisfaction with the store environment.
Under a high density condition perceived purchase risk and time pressure intensify perceived crowding.

Translation: People don’t like to be crowded, it makes them feel rushed and less confident in their purchases.

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.