retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There’s an old motivational poster that posed the question, “What happens when no one sells.”

The answer: “nothing.”

It’s a message that goes far beyond salespeople. In essence, we are all selling all the time. The only way to stand out in this increasingly complex world is to, well, stand out. That mean bring excitement and value - whether you are selling groceries, cars or even readership in a website.

It also means that sometimes what makes for great salesmanship in one place might be somewhat surprising elsewhere. At least, that was my reaction to the most over the top Christmas merchandising I’ve seen in a long time.

Now what made this so extraordinary wasn’t the carols I heard playing on the intercom, the large trees, the displays of gifts, workers in Santa hats or any other element. It was the location: the shopping malls and supermarkets of Shanghai, China, where I visited last week to make a speech.

Here’s the thing: China certainly isn’t an especially Christian country. Not so long ago it wasn’t a location for any religion at all, especially during Mao’s time. Yet now, it’s a winter wonderland of merchandising and spending.

Christmas in China is a celebration that would make some of you crazy, annoyed or angry. The “holiday” is largely about one and only one thing: buying. I asked a couple of the locals I was working with to explain what exactly they were celebrating. With one exception the answers were all about consumerism.

One person, to be fair, thought for five minutes and then told me she thought it had something to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. Beyond that, even she didn’t have much insight. Apparently the Charlie Brown Christmas video hasn’t made it here.

If this were any other holiday, the energy I saw might make for an interesting column on how to create a special event where none had previously existed. But I know for many of you, the notion of a Christmas celebration seemingly only based on the commercial side of the holiday will rankle. Heck, it bothered me and, let me make this clear, I am Jewish!

But this column is about selling, not religion, and I have to hand it to the Chinese merchant community when it comes to building excitement. They have clearly learned at light speed the importance of building an event, even if the event has nothing to do with your culture, your shoppers or anything. Create excitement and sales can happen.

It’s hardly the only example. November 11th is now also a special day in China, though it has nothing to do with Veterans Day or the Treaty of Versailles, which ended a war that didn’t include the Chinese.

Rather, November 11th or 11-11 has become Singles Day; named because of the four number 1’s. Originally a created holiday, Singles Day exploded thanks to a web-based Chinese retailer named the Alibaba Group. This year, Singles Day generated an estimated $6 billion in sales. In a country suddenly turned onto consumerism, holidays—created or borrowed—provide wonderful ways to build excitement, energy and sales.

And so, consider the lesson of how to build merchandising magic. Think about the world of holidays and festivals that you could employ to feature new products or cuisines.

It could make you very merry at unexpected times.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
KC's View: