Release Date: October 19, 2001
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Retailers should brace for a poor Christmas sales season because many Americans feel too guilty to shop during this period of national mourning, says an expert on retailing and consumer behavior.
"Not since the death of President Kennedy has the United States experienced such collective mourning," says Arun K. Jain, Samuel P. Capen Professor of Marketing Research and Chair of the Marketing Department in the University at Buffalo School of Management.
"Many people feel selfish spending money on gifts -- especially luxury items -- while so many of their fellow citizens are suffering because of the events of Sept. 11," he adds. "The Christmas shopping season is very much linked to feelings of celebration and people are not in the mood to celebrate."
Making matters worse for retailers, according to Jain, is America's growing fear of crowded places, like malls, that could be targets for terrorist attacks, and the continued slide of the stock market, which is reflected in third-quarter losses announced this month by the retirement annuities of many consumers.
"All these factors point to a poor holiday season for retailers," explains Jain, "but there are some steps retailers can take to bring shoppers into the stores."
Jain suggests that retailers offer consumers a full slate of community activities, such as holiday concerts or holiday fashion shows featuring local high school students. This would provide consumers with relief from their mourning, as well as give them a guilt-free reason to visit stores and malls, he says.
Patriotic activities such as blood drives or fund-raising events for families and victims of the terrorists' attacks would be particularly effective and beneficial, he adds.
"These events will help heal wounds and provide an opportunity to escape the constant drumbeat of news about the World Trade Center tragedy," he explains. "They give consumers the
opportunity to see what items are available and helps them see that it's okay to shop and behave like a normal person."
Jain also recommends that retailers focus on promoting sales of non-luxury items, such as winter clothing and other essentials.
In the long run, he says that government leaders need to do a better job of educating consumers about how their behavior impacts the U.S. economy.
"Most consumers don't realize that half of a department store's sales occur during the Christmas season, and if these stores don't have a successful holiday season, they can't afford to stay open during the rest of the year," he says.
"So it's in the best interest of consumers to shop during Christmas, otherwise their shopping choices during the rest of the year will begin to dwindle. That means the terrorists will have accomplished one of their objectives -- depriving us of our freedoms."