Retail

Easter Commerce Hops All Over The Place

Blame it on that bunny, maybe.

How, exactly, an anthropomorphized rabbit that decorates and hides eggs from children came to be centrally associated with the Christian belief in Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead is a topic of some debate.

Some link the Easter Bunny to the German myth of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws” (the second option arguably pops a little bit more), while another postulation focuses less on the rabbit element and more on the eggs(s), drawing on its symbolic association (in pagan traditions) with new life and therefore the spring season.

With neither one of those theories drawing a clear line to Christianity, it’s fair to say that any explanation for the Easter Bunny’s affiliation with the religious basis of its eponymous holiday is a pretty long walk.

Effectively — and certainly within the United States — the symbols widely associated with Easter (the bunny, the eggs, the candy, et al) are by and large secular in their acknowledgement, which lends to the fact that the holiday, like Christmas, is recognized and celebrated by a significant number of people who would not necessarily identify themselves as Christians — nor, in many cases, religious at all.

Pardon the cynical perspective, but it can be reasonably argued that the reason Easter is such a popular event in the United States is that it gives consumers — who, in their private lives, are of any and all creeds — a reason to buy stuff.

Boy, do we like to buy stuff.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), American consumers will be doing so in record numbers this Easter, with purchases related to the holiday expected to reach $17.3 billion. Broken down to an average spend of $146 per person, that’s the highest figure tallied in the 13-year history of the NRF’s Easter Spending Survey.

While the popularly recognized symbols of Easter itself are, as aforementioned, rather disparate from the holiday’s origins, the particular items that the respondents to the NRF survey plan on buying venture into regions so far removed from the holiday that they make the Easter Bunny and Jesus Christ look like longtime roommates by comparison.

Let’s break down the list.

According to the Easter Spending Survey, $5.5 billion will be spent on food. That’s reasonable. It’s a holiday; it’s a gathering of family and friends — people gotta eat.

$2.4 billion will be spent on candy. OK. Candy’s pretty much been firmly ensconced as a part of Easter for as long as the holiday has been celebrated in America. (As recently as last year, U.S. consumers spent $823 million on candy in the week leading up to Easter, according to Nielsen.) Who doesn’t like Peeps?

(We’ll actually tell you who doesn’t like Peeps: People who — God help them — prefer their confectionary treats to be best described as “viscous.” Those pagans eat Cadbury Creme Eggs on Easter.)

$2.7 billion will be spent on what the NRF categorizes as “gifts.” That’s vague. But — again — it’s a major holiday; people exchange gifts on major holidays. Besides, that open-ended classification presumably includes sub-categories like clothing, right?

Nope. Clothing was presented as a retail vertical all by itself in the survey … and it’s one on which respondents plan to spent more than on the entire grouping of “gifts” — $3 billion, to be specific.

Here is where the reality that people will pretty much use any excuse at all to buy things begins to come to the surface. $3 billion on “Easter clothes?” What are Easter clothes? A quick Google Shopping search of “Easter bonnet” indicates that the item tends to retail for far less than $146 a head (no pun intended); the numbers do not add up.

But if you think the category of “clothes” is a far cry from the celebration of Easter, peep (pun absolutely intended) this quote from NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay, commenting on the survey:

“Shoppers will find promotions on a number of items on their lists, from Easter baskets to sports equipment, home goods, garden tools and more.”

Easter baskets to … what, what, what and more?

Y’know — sports equipment. To commemorate and reenact Jesus’ renowned skills at jai alai.

Home goods. Certainly, even a cursory reading of the New Testament would uncover numerous mentions of the godly benefits of the KitchenAid 5-Quart Artisan Mixer.

And garden tools. Because … you’re outside, maybe, on Easter? You want to arm your kids with rudimentary weapons to fend off competitors in their egg hunt? Who knows.

To be honest — we know. As does any consumer that celebrates Easter, irrespective of his or her religious affiliation, and as does even the NRF, which directly states in its sharing of the survey findings that many of these things that consumers plan to buy — the clothes, the mixers, the jai alai cestas — are less specifically about preparing for or celebrating Easter than they are about planning for and celebrating spring, in the broader sense.

“Retailers are beginning one of their busiest times of year and are more than ready as consumers shop for spring essentials,” notes Shay.

Spring essentials, you see; not Easter essentials — and certainly not anything that is a requisite for commemorating a religious belief.

The average consumer cannot and will not attempt to justify spending money on whatever whim moves them, at any day of the year. What they’ll do instead is find specific events — particularly widely recognized holidays — to treat others (and themselves) to a little something extra.

And it’s a perfectly reasonable rationale, from that perspective … far more so, in fact, than that egg-laying bunny somebody came up with.

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