Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma did it. Anna Wintour tried and, at least for a while, succeeded. And consumers seem to need that little extra something to get them to spend.
The era of the shopping holiday has dawned.
Prime Day moved more than 100 million products for Amazon this week, with other retailers successfully riding on the 36-hour sale’s coat tails. (Target said its competing one-day sale on Tuesday made for its best-ever traffic and sales day online).
Despite the endless Prime Day buzz — which is thankfully petering out for another year — it is Alibaba’s Ma who really leads in the area of manufactured holidays. Singles’ Day pulled in more than $25 billion on Nov. 11 last year. Not bad for a day designed to give the uncoupled a chance to splurge on themselves.
Prime Day is smaller, with estimates closer to $3.6 billion, but like Singles’ Day in China, Amazon’s holiday now seems to have solidified on the shopping calendar alongside Black Friday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and so on. (Fashion’s Night Out took its shot and benefited from the considerable influence of Vogue’s Wintour, but ultimately missed the mark and faded).
It seems that in the digital age, when ads and marketing come-ons are omnipresent, one can still get the consumer’s attention by shouting.
“These things are ways to break up very boring days of people’s lives, to create places of light,” said branding guru Martin Lindstrom. “These gigantic promotions, they have to be that because if you don’t renew that, things will fade out.”
To succeed, Lindstrom said the shopping holidays need to become movements.
“When seemingly unrelated parties, quite often even enemies with each other, are celebrating the same cause, then a movement is happening,” he said. “That’s what you see happening with Amazon [Prime Day].”
But where can the shopping holiday trend go?
Both broader with more big days and deeper, targeting smaller groups and even individuals.
“People strive for experience, excitement and purpose,” said Eric Gervet, a partner in A.T. Kearney’s retail and digital transformation practices. “The ‘treasure hunt’ effect matters more than the discount itself.”
That, combined with the personalizing potential of the huge caches of data retailers are amassing, lends itself to more targeted approaches.
“The future of shopping events is about allowing more meaningful and personalized experiences,” Gervet said. “We see it in the physical world with more pop-up stores. The same will happen more and more online with ad-hoc events, either community-centric (your city, your neighborhood, your preferred sports team, etc.), and/or really personal as well (e.g., your birthday).”
As the meaning at the heart of many holidays is forgotten or overlooked — Labor Day seems more like a last chance to barbecue than to celebrate the worker — more room seems to open up for new events to take root.
WWD reached out to experts in various fields (and a representative of Gen Z, a highly specialized field of its own) to take a guess at what the next shopping holiday could be.
Martin Lindstrom, who mixes marketing and biological research, said there’s plenty of opportunity — and guilt — to get families together and for brands to market to them.
“It’s very clear that mothers in particular have never been more obsessed, but also more guilty when it comes to how they raise their children,” Lindstrom said. “Every family is somewhat guilty that they’re not the family they should be.
“But there is no such thing as a Child’s Day or a Family Day where you say, now my family’s together and we’re celebrating being together,” he said. “A lot of parents miss the good old days when everyone was around the table and not on their phones. I’m pretty sure that everyone would jump on to it pretty quickly.”
Family Day, or any effort to log out (a popular wish when dreaming up new holidays), would in many ways serve up an antithesis to Prime Day, which focuses the mind on keeping up with the latest deal on offer.
“It’s the fear of losing out, that’s what Prime Day is,” Lindstrom said. “In our society, that fear of losing out has never been bigger and it’s never been faster.”
He said people glued to their phones miss out on things in the real world, don’t meet people and are never bored enough to really be creative.
“That’s the reason families are falling apart,” he said. “In many ways, Family Day is the counterattack to the smart phone.”
No Digital Shopping Day
Fashion backer Gary Wassner said consumers need a day to put down their phones and shop the old-fashioned brick-and-mortar way, actually looking at product.
“I would love a No Digital Day,” Wassner said. “I hear from Gen Z all the time that they’re overloaded and they’re tired and they’re not going to spend money unless they can touch and feel.
“If we’re going to buy something that’s not vintage, we need to perceive value and in order to perceive value, we really need to see the product,” he said. “I would love a day for just brick-and-mortar shopping. We don’t need another big sale, we need an event that reminds us that shopping is not only about price, but also experience and fun.”
Give Back Day
Shopping holidays can also take consumerism too far (or perhaps that’s what they’re designed to do).
“People are just getting completely disillusioned with the constant holidays, the Prime Day, the promotions and everything else,” said Marcie Merriman, an executive director at consultancy EY. “It’s starting to have the effect that people think that, during any other day, they’re getting ripped off.”
To fulfill the philanthropic urge, she suggested a national Give Back Day where retailers would offer a cut to different charities and compete not on price to the consumer, but on how richly they give to good causes.
“[It’s] the whole idea of wanting to be part of something and see something good about what they’re doing,” Merriman said. “When you go to buy now, it’s become less and less meaningful. People are looking more at the impact of their actions. The transparency that’s coming with all of our purchases is just creating more guilt. And if you know what you’re buying is giving back, it helps lessen that and justifies the purchase.”
(To be fair, a similar shopping holiday already exists. Giving Tuesday falls right after Cyber Monday, which follows Black Friday, and has raised more than $300 million and received 21.7 million Twitter impressions, but still not enough traction to become universally known).
There seem to be more than enough holidays to go around.
In addition to the proliferation special days — today, for instance, rates as National Hot Dog Day — there are established holidays that have become unmoored from their original meaning.
Branding expert Zack Toth pointed to the need for a freshened-up Labor Day to celebrate the worker anew and with more than just a cookout.
“By leading with purpose and value for your consumer and your people, the way that Amazon Prime did was smart,” Toth said. “It’s got to be real. It has to be authentic and I think consumers can smell a phony a mile away and their noses are getting better every day, so you better have a clear vision.”
And so, Toth proposed a Generation Day to keep the celebration targeted on the now.
“Each generation should be able to create their own holidays or else it’s just inherited,” Toth said. “Tradition’s important, but you don’t want to risk losing relevance or being inauthentic.”
Meme Day as a concept isn’t fully formed, or perhaps doesn’t really exist at all.
It was proposed by Merriman’s 15-year-old daughter — who was tagging along as her consultant mom whipped up Give Back Day.
“It’s an underground thing,” Merriman reported, where memes (funny snippets of text, video or pictures) would be used as a kind of dog whistle, drawing people in the know to particular products that are on sale.
Where the big promotion can’t connect, the insider cool factor of the meme can.
Or something like that.
It was a hard idea to articulate, and so even harder for anyone else to grasp, but it stands as perhaps closest to the mark of what’s to come. The future of shopping and the shopping holiday is very likely locked inside the still-developing brain of a 15-year-old somewhere, who has an idea, but can’t quite get it out. But when it arrives, it will set the world on fire.