Over 25 years ago, I was having dinner with a wise COO of The Sharper Image when he remarked that we were in for a bad year of sales. When I asked why, he responded, “it’s an election AND an Olympic year”? He had tracked the performance of all the various catalog companies he had worked for over the years and found that, invariably, their response rates declined significantly every four years coinciding with the summer Olympics and national elections. Since this memorable dinner, I have also come to the same conclusion! Need I tell you to “circle the wagons” and trim your expectations for 2016.
I have come to three conclusions as to why this happens:
- First, for the entire year preceding an election, we hear from candidates about how bad things are – we talk ourselves into a funk. We see banners proclaiming “Make America Great Again” as if every aspect of America is in the tank! Our prospective leaders march us right into a negative mindset, if not an actual recession. The consumer loses confidence and does not spend.
- Second, the consumer is distracted by all the hoopla – even good hoopla. When the consumer is watching the Olympics, they are not shopping. When they are looking at political debates or election results, they are not shopping. I think most of us remember calamities that totally wipe out sales for days, if not weeks. One of my clients had their largest catalog drop of the year go in home on September 11, 2001 with a response rate that was less than half of normal; they never fully recovered and eventually went out of business. For the most part, lost sales due to a distracting news event cannot be made up for later in the season.
- Third, the volume of political mail will be huge during the months of October and early November. Your catalog will need to compete for the attention of the consumer when they open their mailbox and can be easily discarded along with the overwhelming clutter.
So what can you do to minimize the damage? Consider the following dates as black-out dates for in-homes: Republican Convention entire week of July 18th; Democratic Convention entire week of July 25th, Summer Olympics August 5th to 21st; and October 17th to November 8th, Election Day. And you better give it until November 11th for the chaos to subside.
While you may not be able to avoid in-homes for all these periods, at least think about tightening your house file mailings and eliminating prospecting. Manage expectations throughout your company and lower your budgets, circulation, and inventory position for the entire year!