Another Thanksgiving Day is done, the last turkey and stuffing sandwiches have been eaten. Dishes are washed, beds stripped, the lost and found ready for mailing back to visitors. Gone is the incessant thumping of rapidly growing feet and the beeping of video games.
On the way out, grandchildren were sweet enough to hug their grandparents tightly and say that they would miss them. Littles, you have no idea what missing is like until you are on the “grand” end of the stick. For those too far away to get home, there was FaceTime, a half hour of passing a phone from hand to hand around the kitchen, chatter and laughter and feasting on beloved faces.
Now there is the sprint to Christmas, the ultimate celebration of commercialism, sentimentality and guilt-driven generosity. We’ve had our first dusting of snow, the nights are long and dark, the year likewise. Could we not take just this one Christmas off to relish the calm, the stillness? To give each other the gift of peace and quiet after a year that took so much from so many?
T’ain’t likely. This is the supply chain Christmas and capitalism is facing a dilemma. The usual practice of selecting blockbuster items, promoting the hell out of them and making a fortune carries a risk. What if they run out? Customers will be furious. Little children will be sobbing if Barney the Beetroot is not under the tree. The must-have gift will become a public relations nightmare.
Barney is on his way to 10,000 homes, but a million more Barneys are sitting in containers on the docks of Los Angeles. Kids singing the Barney theme song do not want to hear from supply chains. They want Barney the Beetroot and they want him on Christmas Day, not New Year’s Eve.
The solution for retailers? Avoid “product-specific” marketing and focus on brand instead. Buy anything and buy early. People have spent a lot more time at home in the past year and a half. They have spent less money eating (and drinking) out, traveled less, saved more. They have become online shopping aficionados. Now it’s Christmas, time to spend.
Think about that message. It doesn’t matter what you buy, as long as you buy. Ohhh, that’s depressing. If you really want to get the full gut punch of what Christmas has become, google “Christmas marketing.” There you will find every conceivable way to persuade customers to empty their bank accounts for this one, special day. Want to go a step lower? Pop “Christmas marketing supply chain” into your search engine to see the full court press of an industry that fears they might not see their store shelves empty.
In contrast to this back-of-the-house panic is the seller/shopper interface. It’s all Hallmark, baby! YouTube lists dozens of lists of the “most heartwarming Christmas commercials ever,” “10 Emotional and Heartbreaking Christmas Ads,” “The Best Most Touching Christmas Adverts that will Melt your Heart.”
People! These are advertisements! They aim to melt/touch/break your heart to get you to buy stuff! Not to go out to help your neighbor, feed the homeless, be a good friend to a homebound person, but to buy things! If you are helping anyone through this buying frenzy, it is the happy people who own these stores and product lines, helping that for the most part does not trickle down to their employees.
There is a long ramp-up to the Christmas season, most of it out of view. Decisions about what factors would influence supply, demand and delivery had to be made by early summer. An incorrect reading of the COVID tea leaves could spell a business-killing season for a merchandiser. Compounding the supply chain woes are shortages of delivery drivers and increasing fuel prices.
What is trouble in the world of commerce is excellent fodder for the news media. “Christmas at Risk as Supply Chain Disaster Only Gets Worse!” “How to Keep the Supply Chain from Ruining Your Christmas.” “Supply Chain Chaos Portends a Grinch of a Christmas for Ecommerce Brands.” “How to Avoid the Retail Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Is there an alternative? Of course there is, and locking yourself in your house until Dec. 26 is not it. Buy locally-made products from a real person. Make something yourself. Take a walk at night and look at the stars. Help somebody for an hour or two. Stack wood or shovel a walk. Take your kids with you. It doesn’t matter if you are not into the part about that Christmas baby. Just make it a time to be helpful. Useful. Grateful.
After the holidays, we still have three months of hard winter left. Don’t start out with an over-spending hangover and only Barney the Beetroot to keep you company.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.