On Thanksgiving Day I received with my newspaper a hefty amount of fliers from various retailers all touting their Christmas bargains. Advertising for Christmas shopping isn’t exactly a new concept, but what I find interesting is the evolution of the buying season and the tricks advertisers have used in their advertisements to influence shopper behavior.
The advertisement in today’s post was published in the Ft. Worth Daily Gazette just two days before Christmas in 1888. W. H. Taylor’s establishment was advertising all sorts of items that could be given as Christmas gifts. But what really caught my attention was that the store seemed to be particularly interested in letting shoppers know they would open early and close late on Christmas Eve. Even in 1888, stores were changing their hours to accommodate Christmas shoppers and including that information in their advertisements.
This made me curious about Christmastime advertising in later years.
I found an advertisement placed by Albuquerque Gas & Electric on November 23, 1918 – 5 days before Thanksgiving – that said putting off shopping for Christmas was the most unpatriotic thing any American could do. I thought that was a bit heavy-handed, but this was during World War I and I suspect that they were saying that shopping late would somehow undermine the war effort. The thinking seems to have been that instead of stores handling Christmas shopping with their normal staff levels and their regular hours, they would have to hire people, who were better utilized elsewhere, to handle the rush of last minute shoppers, and they didn’t want to waste the coal used to keep stores open beyond regular hours.
There was another advertisement that I found in Albuquerque’s Evening Herald on December 4, 1920 from Rosenwald’s department store, pictured in their advertisement for a February 1916 clearance sale. They didn’t seem to just be interested in selling individual items, but in selling the concept of shopping early. As part of their advertisement they indicated “a great increase in the number of early shoppers” and put the words “more and more people realize the wisdom of shopping early” front and center. And if that wasn’t inducement enough, they made sure to enumerate the benefits of early shopping – better choices, shopping at leisure, and more attention from sales staff.
On November 11, 1939, the Los Angeles Times ran an ad on encouraging people to shop early and even sponsored an early shopping contest where people could win cash and prizes. I rather enjoyed the checklist of positives:
- Gives more time to wrap gifts attractively
- Aids stores to make prompt delivery
- Permits early mailing to out-of-town points
- Avoids heavy traffic
- Allows monogramming, initialing and personalized gifts
- Selections are wide, varied and complete
- Many price advantages on early gift specials
- Allows salespeople time for individual customer problems
- Merchandise is fresh and unhandled
- Increases employment
- Gives more time to choose appropriate gifts
- Gives time to arrange convenient credit
Advertisements during World War II also appealed to citizen patriotism, though a little less bluntly than in the World War I advertisement mentioned above. In December 1942 a Sears advertisement in the Chicago Tribune advertised a Store-Managers Pre-Christmas sale, while an ad in October 1944 in the Chicago Daily Tribune from Netcher’s Boston Store, headed for almost 50 years by Mollie Netcher, emphasized shopping early in order to “save man power.” Even transit agencies got into the game. The Capital Transit Company ran an ad in the December 8, 1943 Washington Post and New England Transportation Company ran one on December 10, 1942 in the Hartford Courant where both encouraged people to avoid using transit during morning and evening rush hours in order to avoid getting in the way of war workers going to and from work.
Fast forward in time to when those shopping on Christmas Eve are considered last minute shoppers. Black Friday has taken hold and door buster sales are used to bring in the crowds. The Christmas shopping season starts earlier and earlier – encouraged by retailers – until in 2013, when a number of retailers opened their stores late on Thanksgiving Day. But looking back at advertising, it is obvious that retailers have a history of drawing out the Christmas buying season.