Pymnts Contributors

PYMNTS Celebrates Festivus

The most important holiday of the year is nearly upon us.

No, not Christmas.


For those who were not Seinfeld viewers in the ’90s, Festivus is the fake holiday that George Costanza’s family celebrated while other people were prattling on about peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. It is also reportedly a real holiday celebrated by the family of Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe.

Celebrated annually on Dec. 23, there are many traditions that make Festivus the best December holiday by far.

There is the unadorned aluminum pole that is erected annually, the traditional Festivus dinner (meatloaf or turkey), the Festivus miracles (pretty much a regular miracle that happens at or around Festivus) and the feats of strength — where all must take a turn wrestling the head of the household (technically, Festivus cannot end until the head of the household is pinned).

And while all of those traditions are of course quite lovely, what makes Festivus really shine and stand out is, of course, the airing of grievances. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like — once Festivus dinner has been served, family members go around the table and discuss the ways they’ve been disappointed by each other and the world in general.

Or as George Costanza’s father said during Seinfeld’s version of the event, “I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”

We at PYMNTS love Festivus — and we want you to love it just as much as we do.

And so, although we are about a week early, we thought we would kick off the best part of the holiday season — with our own payments and commerce airing of grievances.

To: chatbots

From: consumers

Grievance: You are a lot less useful than you said you were.

When Facebook announced its big commerce chatbot push earlier this year, it took less than 24 hours from the reporting to go from enthusiastic to just plain ecstatic. Bloomberg declared apps were officially doomed and ready to die of old age at the ripe old age of 9.

So what came of the bot revolution — have we purged all of our phones of apps?

Yeah, not so much. As it turns out, bots in many cases were a better concept in, well, conception than in execution. Even David Marcus, president of Facebook and chatbot cheerleader number one, said that perhaps that world had gotten ahead of itself a bit with the bot mania — and that it would actually take some time for the bot commerce ecosystem to develop into a tool that customer found useful.

As for the chatbots of today, he managed to sum of up the two-thirds of the Festivus grievance that consumers everywhere have been logging all year: “Overhyped and underpowered.”

Add that last third Karen Webster managed to catch in her article about the stalling bot revolution: kind of annoying.

“Most of the time, I just want to punch Poncho the Weather Cat since all I want is the weather when I ask about the weather,” said Webster. “Spare me the cutesy icon that tries to make a joke about it. We take our weather very seriously in Boston.”

Now there is a chance chatbots can improve up to being actually useful — in the same speech about noting the “overhyped and underpowered” situation, Marcus also stated that bots are making steady progress. And this is despite the difficulties and ever-expanding list of retailers that are moving to incorporate the bots into their full commerce package (recently even Starbucks decided to take the bot plunge).

But for now, consumers are more likely to complain about their chatbot than laud its usefulness.

To: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

From: consumer advocates, payday lenders and consumers

Grievance: You managed to draft rules that are bad for literally everyone involved.

When the CFPB drafted new regulations for the payday lending industry earlier this year, they likely could have expected that someone would be airing grievances in their general direction. That is more or less par for the course for the CFPB.

But this time around, the bureau managed to draft a set of regulations that more or less united a divided Festivus dinner table otherwise divided on the topic into a single grievance: The CFPB had done a bad job.

Jamie Fulmer from Advance America, the nation’s largest payday lender, is aggrieved because the CFPB rules as written are not meant to reform the short-term lending industry so much as they are obviously intended to dismantle it. By most accepted estimates, the new CFPB rules will shut down 80 percent of short-term lenders.

Nick Bourke from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ consumer banking project is similarly aggrieved, noting the laws as written will mostly succeed in closing some lenders, letting others carry on with triple-digit interest rates and making it harder for consumers to get loans — because the new regs rein in payday lenders while offering no constructive steps toward an alternative.

And consumers of payday loans are aggrieved because — well, they were never asked by the CFPB directly for any insight as to whether they would actually like to see payday loans dismantled. And given that 47 percent of Americans do not have an extra $400 on hand to pay an unexpected expense, one can likely assume they are also pretty aggrieved that their universe of options is about to get smaller when they are hit with one of those unexpected bills since no consumer wants to be protected into poverty.

To: consumers

From: mobile wallets

Grievance: Why are you just not that into us?

In 2014, the world was the mobile wallet’s oyster. Apple Pay was new, everyone was excited and the world was more or less convinced that plastic cards were about to go the way of the typewriter. After all, who wants an analog solution like a card in a digital world?

As it turns out, about 90 percent of consumers.

It’s not that people hate mobile payments or even that they don’t like them. The data show that most consumer have a positive experience when they use them.

The problem is, they pretty much don’t use them, or at least not when paying in stores. As it turns out, customers like plastic cards just fine, too, and while everyone anticipated that everyone would have their heads turned by the new mobile hotness, the faithful, reliable plastic card has a lot of appeal.

“Using cards is an ingrained habit,” Jared Schrieber of InfoScout pointed out. “And consumers weren’t exactly clamoring for a new way to pay.”

Now as every rom com in history proves, everyone and everything is a good, solid makeover away from turning the heads and getting whomever it is all that into you — and certainly with a big rewards push from Samsung (and, to a lesser extent, Apple and Google), those makeovers look to be under way.

But for now, this Festivus, we imagine that mobile wallets and their makers are wondering when exactly it will be that they will get to feel all that love they were promised.

From: grocery stores

To: Amazon

Grievance: We had enough problems already — go away!

Selling groceries should be easy enough — since everyone has to eat, after all. And that seems at the root of the grocer’s problem this year — everyone does have to eat, which means everyone is looking to capture their piece of that absolutely mandatory spending.

Which means that traditional grocery has spent the year fighting back specialty players such as Amazon Fresh and Instacart and meal kit services like Blue Apron that are making some customers wonder if they really need to grocery shop at all.

All the competition has led to a price war that has driven most grocery prices down (with the exception of fresh produce, which is up in price of late) — and made already thin grocery margins thinner.

Traditional grocery stores already had 99 problems that could have felt aggrieved by, and then, just in time for Festivus, Amazon decided to bring it to an even 100.

Amazon has officially announced the grocery store of the future — powered by its “Just Walk Out” technology.

The first location will open its doors in early 2017 in Seattle and without traditional registers. Featuring grab-and-go meals, snacks and bakery items, the new Amazon technology enhances the experience with no lines and no waiting through a virtual shopping cart that processes what customers pick up to then charge them.

How does it work? Customers are allowed access to the store with their smartphone, which will already have the necessary Amazon Go app downloaded. They tap the digital turnstile and start perusing the store. Using a combination of sensors, computer vision and “deep learning,” Amazon says it can understand what each customer picks up and then adds it to their bill. If they put an item back, it senses that, too. When the customer leaves the store, the app bills the purchases to the customer’s card on file and pings over a receipt.

On the upside for grocers, they won’t be lonely at Festivus this year. “Just go away” is a fairly typical refrain from retailers as Amazon starts eying their vertical.

Festivus. Sure, it doesn’t feature the sparkly pretty lights and gift giving that generally follow along with the other December holidays — and as far as we know, there are no Festivus carols (though there should be).

But Festivus, when properly celebrated, does something that no other holiday can — it frees us from the shackles of politeness to do all the complaining that we might like to do for Christmas but can’t.

Plus you get to try to wrestle the head of your household to the ground to prove your strength. Really, does it get much better than that?

Happy Festivus!


New PYMNTS Report: Preventing Financial Crimes Playbook – July 2020 

Call it the great tug-of-war. Fraudsters are teaming up to form elaborate rings that work in sync to launch account takeovers. Chris Tremont, EVP at Radius Bank, tells PYMNTS that financial institutions (FIs) can beat such highly organized fraudsters at their own game. In the July 2020 Preventing Financial Crimes Playbook, Tremont lays out how.

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