Monday, November 29, 2010

Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays and Lessons from 34th Street

I'm going to confess that I love a sappy holiday movie from the 40s and 50s.  So imagine my joy when I stumbled upon "Miracle on 34th Street" with Maureen O'Hara and the young Natalie Wood.  For those of you not familiar with it, it's about how the "real" Santa Claus plays the role of the Macy's Santa Claus one Christmas season... and, as the saying goes, hilarity ensues!

There I was sitting happily and laughing along with Kris Kringle when I was presented with this gem of a marketing lesson which we have yet to learn.  Read on!

"MACY: The effect this will have on the public is...  Come in, Mrs. Walker.

- Hello, Mrs. Walker.

- Sit over here.

MACY: I've been telling these gentlemen the new policy you and Mr. Shellhammer initiated.  I can't say that I approve of your not consulting the advertising department first but in the face of this tremendous public response, I can't be angry with you.

DORIS: What's he talking about?

MR. SHELLHAMMER: Tell you later.

MACY: Now, to continue, gentlemen.  I admit this plan sounds idiotic and impossible.  Imagine Macy's Santa Claus sending customers to Gimbels.   Ho ho.  But,  gentlemen, you cannot argue with success.  Look at this.  Telegrams, messages, telephone calls.  The governor's wife, the mayor's wife, over thankful parents expressing undying gratitude to Macy's.

Never in my entire career have I seen such a tremendous and immediate response to a merchandising policy.  And I'm positive, Frank, if we expand our policy, we'll expand our results as well.  Therefore, from now on, not only will our Santa Claus continue in this manner but I want every salesperson in this store to do precisely the same thing.  If we haven't got exactly what the customer wants we'll send him where he can get it.

No high pressuring and forcing a customer to take something he doesn't really want.  We'll be known as the helpful store, the friendly store, the store with a heart, the store that places public service ahead of profits.  And, consequently, we'll make more profits than ever before."

True, this is a Hollywood confection and a very good one at that.  But, the point doesn't stop being a good one.  It is good practice to say that you don't have what your customer wants and refer him/her to someone who does because that customer will remember your honesty.  It is good practice to put service ahead of profits because the profits will always follow from performing the service.

I'm also saying that this is more than a "Karma is a boomerang" type of point.  It's actually a point about efficiency as well.  Why force a square peg into the round hole only to have to go back later and undo what's been done?  Consider the amount of rework and/or customer service hand holding or damage control you've avoided on the back end by simply saying "I'm sorry but I don't think I can help you."  The topline results mean nothing if your bottom line isn't there to back it up.

The other thing is that behaving in ways for the greater good is not a new concept, particularly in the social media space.  Why do we keep falling for the hoopla and artificial shopping competition of Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays?  Sure, there are retailers offering insanely great prices out there.  But you're not helping customers with savvy shopping habits if they don't buy what they "need" and instead buy what's flashy.

Eventually, the customer will realize that he/she may have spent a bit too much and while taking some responsibility, will feel a little hoodwinked by it all, will feel like there was price coercion or some other invisible prod at work...  not something you'd want to be remembered for during the yuletide season!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

p.s.  I got the screenplay transcript from here.


  1. Interesting, the hype builds traffic, but people really did not buy that much more Friday than YAG. One thing I noticed is the sales were already starting earlier this year and will probably go straight through beyond Christmas. The Retailers are backing themselves into a corner here, creating a consumer monster that buys on sale, no brand or store loyalty, not necessarily buying what they need.


  2. At some point hopefully they will start to build an intelligent database about customer needs. Over the past 10 years (let alone 20-30 years) we have bought several cars, TV's and items that we might not necessarily need. Let's see which of the big brands get it right where they get and produce what we need and adjust their marketing and messaging accordingly. I only hear people talking about a mall or store visit when a sale is taking place.

  3. I agree with you both... The shopping season did not start with Black Friday because of all of the advanced sales that took place earlier in November. Consequently, the stores have cannibalized themselves as opposed to making net gains... all the while killing any chance of store loyalty because the competition is based on price, not quality or service.