Cyber Monday’s business press was all atwitter looking at that day as well as Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Technology Tuesday. Makes me wonder when they’re going to celebrate WTF Wednesday, too. But this year something new happened. All of a sudden Cyber Monday sales figures are coming in wonky. And experts are falling all over each other to explain what’s going on.
“The holiday season and the weekend are a marathon, not a sprint.” National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay told Bloomberg when Cyber Monday sales tumbled an estimated 11 percent over the weekend from a year earlier and 6 million anticipated shoppers didn’t show up.
Shay pointed out many consumers don’t feel like the economy has recovered from the recession yet. That makes it difficult to gauge how much they plan to spend on Cyber Monday or any other day.
New York-based analyst Simeon Siegel put it this way: “You can’t outsmart the consumer anymore. You need to pander to where the consumer wants to shop and when.”
Still other retail experts pointed out that lower Cyber Monday sales were actually a good sign. They theorized this meant consumers were confident and didn’t need retail gimmicks to get them to buy.
Of course no one has bothered to point out that what we’re really seeing is the beginning of the end for traditional retailing. The reason experts all have different opinions is because they’re prognosticating on something they’ve never seen before. And all the facts and figures they trot out to confirm their points of view are old measurements of an old world we’ll never see again.
Take Cyber Monday itself for example. According to The New York Times, “The name Cyber Monday grew out of the observation that millions of otherwise productive working Americans, fresh off a Thanksgiving weekend of window shopping, were returning to high-speed Internet connections at work Monday…” Of course, this was written in 2005 when most consumers didn’t have high-speed Internet access anywhere but their offices. Today WiFi hotspots are as numerous as Kim Kardashian’s husbands. There is simply no reason for shoppers to wait until they get to work to go online and shop. And since shoppers know the prices they see on Monday will still be available on Tuesday and Wednesday, they’re in no hurry to grab bargains on Cyber Monday.
Unfortunately, the retail industry has trained consumers to expect, demand, and wait for low prices and shoppers now exercise their Pavlovian right to the best deal available regardless of what stores and websites are yelling about.
The only place where this unfortunate reality is not sucking the profits out of retail is the luxury goods market where brands such as Apple, BMW, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton sell more than just the sum of their components. Instead of using price and function to fight it out, these savvy brands understand that whether or not consumers rush to the mall or the Internet, they will pay top dollar for exclusive experiences that define their lifestyles and themselves.
In other words, good brands make you feel good but great brands make you feel good about yourself. The great brands that understand this and build the perceived value of the good feelings they create will prevail regardless of whether it’s Cyber Monday, Black Friday or The Hell With it Thursday.