Christmas in June

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Toys R Us has announced a holiday layaway plan for shoppers, and I think it’s one of the smartest new ideas I’ve heard in a long time…even if it’s an old one.

Customers can put away up to $2,500 in their Christmas Savers Club and Toys R Us will pay them 3% on whatever they’ve saved by October 31, at which point the funds can be used to shop for presents. Nevermind that 3% is more than double the average savings account yields available from banks these days, or that helping consumers plan ahead with their money borders on contributing to the public good. Or that Toys R Us can kick-off its holiday selling push by announcing some multi-million dollar giveback to its customers. 

It evidences the company’s willingness to consider all the marketing strategies available to it, not just those that qualify as "new." It’s great marketing.

Layaway plans belong to the pantheon of 20th Century promotional ideas that includes dinner glass giveaways at gas stations and playable 45s on the backs of breakfast cereal boxes. Such programs helped people keep spending after the Great Depression, and there was always a solid, direct line to connect these ideas to sales outcomes. How archaic, eh? To think that companies used to tell consumers that they wanted to sell stuff to them, and then made it easier, rewarding, or simply more fun to buy. 

No brand needs "new" anything, especially in the reality of today’s marketplace. "Better" is the strategic catchword that matters and it means trolling every and any place a better idea might be found, including operational departments that might not normally be considered candidates for such efforts. I’ve written before that finance is one area that deserves attention from a variety of products and services; how your consumers buy, service, and upgrade/expand their business with you has an underpinning of money (i.e. they hand it to you) that you can most likely improve or make unique.

It’s not sexy but it is relevant, meaningful, and offers a utility that puts even your funniest post on your brand’s Facebook page to shame. 

I also think that talking about the holidays now instead of waiting until Thanksgiving is something that more brands should do. There’s no "selling season" any more than there’s a TV season worth worrying about, really, however much we like to pretend otherwise, and waiting for consumers to show up is not such a smart strategy. There’s no reason why they can’t be engaged in programs and services right now that will benefit them right now. The Christmas Savers Club is hobbled with old thinking, and promises a mishmash of new media (stay tuned for that Facebook page), but it’s still a better idea than doing the same old "new" stuff.

In fact, I’d do more with it. I wonder if we’ll see:

  • Product-specific promotions — Could savers specify items for which they’re saving and get deals? Maybe an incentive to take delivery of something prior to the week before Christmas? It would be great if Toys R Us could prompt more sale sooner.
  • In-store benefits — Maybe club members could get POS deals during the year, like shopping assistance (to pick out the products for which they’re saving?). What about a present storage service at stores so members don’t have to hide presents in their attics?
  • Third-party tie-ins — Tie-ins with other services that encourage saving are a natural, so why not cut a deal with local utilities so that pre-paying home heating bills earns a benefit? What about grocery stores? Is this the real backbone of the company’s loyalty program?

I’m probably making too much of it, but it’s just so damn refreshing to think about engaging with consumers in meaningful, sales-relevant ways instead of wasting time dreaming up how to propagate "content" into the "conversation" so that they will "collaborate" on it and, well, you get the idea.

I’m waiting for the first brand to bring back those dinnerware glasses. They’ll get my business, whether it’s June or December.

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