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Top Takes From ‘Christmas In July’

NEW YORK — It ain’t like it used to be when it comes to Black Friday, and that’s (mostly) a good thing.

TWICE hosted its annual “Christmas in July CE Holiday Sales Preview” webinar last week, and senior editor Alan Wolf quizzed the panelists on expectations for the upcoming and always all-important holiday selling season.

Panelists included New Age Electronics president Fred Towns, HSN electronics and household VP Neal Martinelli, Icontrol Networks VP of Piper marketing Jason Domangue, and CEA industry analysis manager Chris Ely. We’ve gathered our top takeaways, but a full replay of the webinar can be found here.

Amazon isn’t the only one getting in on the summer season.

The webinar was held during Amazon’s Prime Day promotion (see p. 22), but Amazon is far from the first retailer that’s tried to generate a little excitement during a traditionally slow retail season. HSN now regularly celebrates its birthday in July with a series of special promotions all month long, Martinelli said.

“Allowing us to have a focal point in marketing in a traditionally tough month allows us to distort this month. It has become our third or fourth largest sales-generating month of the year. If you have the right promotions and the right hooks, customers are there.”

Say ‘so long’ to the Wild West of Black Friday pricing.

 Pricing is far more strategic than it used to be thanks to MAP and UPP pricing. “Naturally there will be some slow-moving products or potential models that [manufacturers] want to create a little excitement with,” said Towns, “[but] I still don’t think it’s going to be the day of everybody discounting everything like the old days. It’s more and more strategic. The hope is to have consumers look at some of the newer technologies and know they have availability and selection to get it. …  In computer gaming, people aren’t looking for discounts on the new consoles — they were looking for availability.”

Like it or not, Thanksgiving is the new Black Friday.

The selling drumbeat doesn’t start the day after Thanksgiving — it starts in October, and consumers are ready for it.

“I think everyone is excited to start shopping 365 days of the year,” said Martinelli. “I think the big shift to digital last year is a tell-tale, and I think it will only be bigger this year.”

That said, retailers need to prepare for the sales shift from December and try to generate a second burst period. Towns suggested holding on to highly desirable items for a week or two to create additional excitement in the stores.

When it comes to smart home, security will rule and seeing is believing.

“We found in our [research] that products related to security were what seemed to pique consumer interest first, and other things were sort of nice to have,” said CEA’s Ely. “We also found that word of mouth is crucial,” he said, noting that consumers are overwhelmingly learning about the products by watching their neighbors and family members purchase and use them.

On that note: Keep it simple, stupid.

Although the industry may be wringing its hands over platform interoperability, most consumers don’t really care. 

“The average consumer generally isn’t paying attention. They just get confused by it,” said Icontrol’s Domangue. “So we tend to focus a lot on the value proposition of what the consumer is getting. We don’t talk about HomeKit or Brillo. All of this will connect in the Cloud at some point. It doesn’t matter if it’s ZigBee or Thread, all this stuff is going to converge. Right now the consumer isn’t driving the need for that, we are. It’s an echo chamber of us all talking to each other.

“So my advice is don’t worry so much about what platform you’re carrying in stores. Make sure you’re addressing the use cases the consumer is looking for.”