The Monkey Shines On Retail In China

While today marks the celebration of all 43 of our country’s presidents to date, U.S. retailers might be wondering why the country doesn’t stretch out the party over more than one day. A 43-day holiday would obviously be an unrealistic goal … but why not two or three?

The greater amount of time that any country allots for recognizing a cultural event or season, the more consumer spending there is to be done during it. The winter holidays are a prime example of that in the United States, as are — to a lesser, albeit more spread-out extent — the opposing periods of back-to-school shopping and summer vacations. Save for the brief windows of time in advance of major holidays, like Halloween and the just-passed Valentine’s Day, those are pretty much all that retailers can effectively count on for anything approaching sustained intervals of profit.

By contrast, look at New Year’s in the U.S. Although it is commonly viewed as being among (in fact, closing out) the aforementioned winter holidays, it’s pretty much a one-off for retailers in the areas of dining and party favors.

Celebrating the renewal of the annual calendar (albeit according to the lunar one, not the Gregorian) in China, on the other hand — and taking a week to do so — pays massive retail dividends.

News from the country’s Ministry of Commerce regarding China’s most recent Spring Festival (which concluded on Feb. 13) finds that retail sales rose an impressive 11.2 percent over the previous year’s week-long celebration, for a total of 754 billion yuan ($116 billion), reports International Business Times.

Taking a week to celebrate the dawn of the Year of the Monkey, notes the outlet, meant that Chinese consumers had that many more days to spend on food, tobacco, alcohol, clothes, digital products and jewelry (a lot of goods sold in the latter category, the ministry reports, having been monkey-themed) — not to mention movie tickets, sales of which, IB Times shares, increased 80 percent between Feb. 8 (the first day of the Lunar New Year) and Feb. 10, nearly reaching the equivalent of the category’s total sales during the Spring Festival in 2015 in three days.

While retailers in the U.S. are looking at recent sales increases in January — up 0.2 percent to match pace with December, the Commerce Department has reported (via CBS News) — as good news, the numbers pale in comparison to what China generated during its most recent annual party.

As the CBS News story shares, rising wages and declining gas prices are currently combining to make a dent in the U.S. retail landscape, but it’s really one too small to build any serious forecast as to the trend’s longevity. With the next major U.S. retail holiday being Mother’s Day, a lot of economic factors — including those currently dipping fuel costs — could shift between now and May and not necessarily in a positive direction.

Is there a long-term solution that could put regular retail sales surrounding U.S. holidays on par with, for example, China’s Spring Week? Theoretically, sure: The country could undergo a whole hog cultural transformation and get on board with the lunar calendar (Rooster trinkets for everyone, by this time next year!). But that’s not going to happen.

Not every celebration period for existing holidays can be stretched out to create more opportunities for commerce; the most obvious reason being that the less time that consumers are obligated to work, the less money they will have to spend on things. Similarly, the opportunities for the creation of brand new retail consumer holidays — Force Friday notwithstanding — are few and far between. (John Lithgow’s character tried to invent “Christmas 2” in “Santa Claus: The Movie,” and he came out kind of looking like a jerk for his efforts.)

Perhaps a more feasible course of action by which retail in the U.S. could enjoy the kinds of sales that China recently did during Spring Week could be undertaken by individual — and specific — merchants, rather than the industry (or culture) as a whole.

Looking at the box office grosses that China saw during its New Year celebration, for example, movie theaters in the U.S. could — this time next year, perhaps — take advantage of the close proximity between Valentine’s Day and President’s Day and better position their offerings as a catch-all for both holidays. (Many actually had luck in that regard this year, with “Deadpool” breaking records left and right.) Same could done by certain retailers in the restaurant, apparel and jewelry spaces, among others.

While not every business can attempt to reposition each and every U.S. holiday as an occasion for continual days of dedicated consumer spending, not every one has to in order to put the country’s retail landscape on par with China’s. All that might be required is to better identify the means — currently, the aforementioned increase in wages and drop in gas prices — in conjunction with opportunities throughout any given year.

That … or, for President’s Day 2017, maybe the U.S. retail industry can start making a concerted push to make it a three-day weekend in celebration of Grover Cleveland’s two non-consecutive terms.


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