A new view on spending in December!

This is the first year I’ve used up all my healthcare pre-tax savings account. To be completely transparent, it was gone in August. And now it’s December. And I’m still spending!

I’m spending on healthcare this month like it was all I wanted for Christmas!

One might surmise that I’m not feeling well, or that I have some disease, but that’s not it. I’ve spent most of my money on wellness procedures to get some nagging aches and pains under control. And that worked. (insert smiley face here).

The new view on December spending is frankly this: I’ve met my deductible and can finally tap into my insurance.

Now I get why all the docs are so jammed in December. And I’m glad I had appointments booked in advance.

On my spending list this month is some shoulder therapy, which has helped my golf swing and is also prep work for a January trip that includes white water rafting and zip-line fun in Costa Rica. Today I go to pick out and pay for new glasses, that’s always an expensive treat given I’m now up to three layers of vision in the lenses!

And Monday the hubby and I are both off to the lab to prove to our interinst that our “number” are better and our health efforts have been worth it.

Too bad, Walmart, Target and the mall stores. Too bad Amazon Prime.  Our gift budgets are gone. But we’re making the best choices we can, given what our premiums and deductibles will be come January. Taking the long view has changed our December spending, but we are feeling like Santa came early!

We Dig the Pig

We travel to the Carolina’s three or four times a year, have been doing so for years. Our relationship with the Pig, (a.k.a. Piggly Wiggly grocery chain) began on Hilton Head Island.

We got the loyalty card the first year we all (7 family families) took the kids down for Easter break. When you have to feed 26 kids and 16 adults for a week, you get the card…and buy the shirts.  Believe me, when one cousin comes home from a trip to the grocery with this shirt on, the other 25 start begging……

P. S. – the same thing happens at The Salty Dog restaurant on Sea Pines Plantation. Sigh.

But times have changed and now my kids are all grown up. This week, we’re all at the beach again, this time it’s Folly Beach,  just south of Charleston, SC.

The ubiquitous “I Dig the Pig” shirts are still at the entrance of the store. But the world has changed, my kids have “been there, done that, got the shirt” and even the grocer itself lives in a post-modern world.

The good news…the Pig still has a sense of whimsy!!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Fa La La AHA!

I’m prepping invoices clients want to pay before 12/31/11. And I’m thinking back to Christmas week of 2010, when Anne Howe Associates (AHA!) was still in start-up mode. Notable events of that week included signing an agreement with and rushing an invoice on 12/24 to Decision Insight, turning a business friendship into a client and ultimately into a true friendship.

This week, I’d like to say thanks to the many clients that have entrusted their work to me in 2011. I’m happily and productively at your service, with all due intent to deliver my best work for you every day.  I’m excited for 2012, knowing it will be busy, full of challenges, insights, AHA! moments and application of learning to your business.

I would also like to thank my many industry friends in the marketing and shopper marketing world. Your friendship, trust and encouragement, and especially your referrals, have been inspiring for me in 2011, and I thank you all for your support and most of all your friendship. I feel a true community spirit around me, and I hope I can foster the feeling for all of you in 2012.

And even though I’m not much of a winter person, there is beauty and wonder in every single snowflake, and I hope we can all take time this Holiday season to throw our heads back and catch a few snowflakes this season, as they do indeed put the sparkles and the twinkles in our eyes! Happy Holidays to All.


Free Puppies for Christmas!

Last year our three adult children, assuming we were so lonely without them, were scheming to get us a puppy. For Christmas.  Little did they know we (the ‘rents) had already discussed and agreed on no puppy, we’d rather golf and travel more and not have to pay for doggie care so soon after paying for all that college.  Good thing we overheard the whispering and instead we received an awesome new HD television for the family room.

Buying or giving (from a shelter) a puppy as a surprise holiday gift, is crazy, in my opinion.

But the power of the concept of a free puppy is a strong emotional tug, and the feeling is so warm and happy…..

And that is why Eddie Bauer Stores gets my favorite 2011 in-store holiday merchandising award this December. I’ll take a free plush “Little Eddie” puppy with a gift card purchase any day of the year. Merry Christmas!

A retail offer that feels like a kiss from a warm puppy!

Green Bean Casserole. Under-baked at retail.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a loyal Target shopper. But lately, I’ve been seeing some rather troublesome merchandising trends in their stores. This one really stands out in my mind as a miss. In fact, had I not stopped my aisle-by-aisle journey in the food area to say hello to a neighbor, I’d have missed it the intent entirely.

Endcap at Target, April 2011

Take a good look at this photo. It’s an endcap with all the ingredients a shopper needs to make the classic family favorite – Green Bean Casserole, for Passover or Easter. Now, having been in the insights business for so long, I happen to know that shoppers LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to stick with family traditional recipes for holidays. They just aren’t interested in any new-fangled twist on a recipe then. So the good news is the endcap display contains all the right ingredients to deliver on what shoppers want; an easy one stop place to build the recipe right into the cart.

But really, Target, did you have to put Temporary Price Cut visual as the only shopper cue to buy? ( That same signage was on EVERY endcap in food area, sadly enough.) Not even one tantalizing picture of the steaming finished dish to make shoppers imagine the smell and taste the goodness? It should have made your mouth water. Nor any message that reminds the shopper that “this is the path to family joy on the holidays” for goodness sakes, because holiday meals really turn on the love and bonding to brands.

It’s a darn shame no strong brand (such as Campbell) could influence the just-awful price cut header cards. Target has taken over the signage and it ain’t pretty. Do you think they want shoppers to know they beat Walmart on price? Shoppers know it, so hang a nice big ceiling banner and give the emotional, visceral and engaging cue-space back the the brands. Campbell’s Target team knows what to do and how to do it well. Maybe it’s time to foster more collaboration?

And if there is research to support this ‘temporary price cut” merchandising strategy for every single aisle in the grocery section, I want to read it, truly I do. Because this display of discounts only messaging is not profitable for any of the brands that are supporting it. Target shoppers respond differently and in positive ways to the fashionable lifestyle it portrays in most other areas of the store. Why not in food as well? Target could own a differentiated from anyone else point-of-view in food, perhaps.

And while my boys (hubs and son) love classic green bean casserole, I didn’t buy the recipe because I was just so uninspired by the whole experience. I did buy the French’s fried onions, which boys will sprinkle on fresh beans and mushrooms from the farmer’s market.

So Target lost the sale. And I feel like the experience was not at all inspiring, sort of like Walmart was when it was a sea of yellow faces. But Target faces made me mad and sad and will keep me out of their food section for a while.

PacSun posts SEASON’S GREEDY on the window!

This is the third post in a series of Good, Better, Best (and Missed Opportunities) in retail merchandising for the Holiday 2010 season. If you’ve ever had to shop for a teen, enjoy this one!

Last weekend, PacSun in Tampa, FL had “Season’s Greedy” spray-painted on the store windows. Oh my! I laughed out loud and immediately gave them an A+ for understanding the mindset of their core shopper. Put yourself in the teen mindset – “it’s all about ME”  – how clever to translate the thought so appropriately! While it might be offensive to some, it gets a BEST holiday merchandising in my opinion.

Season's Greedy

In the Better merchandising category, again on the mall-facing window, were a series of posters, (which could have been bigger), of brand-sponsored athletes wearing select merchandise. Brand logos were evident and the posters made it much simpler for clueless parents to start somewhere when picking out a gift for the oh-so-discerning teen. Nice effort all around.

Celebrity Gift Suggestions

Not to be out-done by clever and cool, the window dressers at PacSun also delivered on the classic Buy, Get promotion in a unique way that is sure to appeal to the shopper who pays the bills and is seeking a reasonable price on all the coolness their teen might enjoy from PacSun’s overflowing racks. The graphic is well-designed to read “Free Tee’s” at first glance, and not mis-leading as it does identify for the would-be shopper that the official offer is “Buy Three, Get One Free.” I give this window cling a Better rating as well, mainly for the effective graphic design.

Tee's Free - Buy Three Get One Free

All things being equal, I would have entered the store and taken a look around for something my 21 year old son might like. But, the store was closing and the jail gates were dropping down at 9:15pm on a Saturday night. Probably better, since I had already dropped about $200 at Victoria’s Secret. But that’s another story.

Holiday Merchandising – Good, Better and Missed Opportunity

Throughout the next few weeks I’m going to be on the lookout for examples of holiday retail merchandising, providing photos and comments about what I think qualifies as good, better, best and what I will call the missed opportunities. Here’s what I found at Meijer this afternoon.

Let’s start with Better. I loved this all-in-one Bottle Banter display, it’s eye-catching and contains a lot of useful items for party hoppers like me! One bottle bag says “Nothing says Holiday like Booze in a Bag” but I bought the tamer “Let it Flow” version and some wine glass charms that say “naughty” and “nice” to add in the gift bag. Too bad this display was buried on a bottom shelf of a random holiday aisle. I’d have put it in the Best category if it was placed on a visible end cap at eye level.

Perfect for the Party Hopper

Next, let’s move to Good. I found a series of end aisle displays with themed signage that included “with prices starting at $xx.99” copy. One was just candles starting at $7.99 but this one below included some nice seasonal home decor and tableware with the theme “Serve. Dine. Entertain.” Not exceptionally clever, but effective. Nice quality for opening price points of $14.99 as well.

Dress up your table without spending a fortune!

And finally, a missed opportunity. Ganz stuffed animals are exceptionally soft and super cute. When you touch them the first instinct is to put them near your face and cuddle. Yet these perfect kid gifts are tossed in a shipper stack with no messaging at all. The cardboard is red, that is all. I wanted to get some posterboard and a marker and write headline copy on the spot. How Ganz could miss the chance to deliver a clear brand benefit is beyond my shopper marketing comprehension.

Christmas Cuddles in Every Stocking!

Meijer is a regional mass retailer with great prices. They do a good job organizing a big area for the holiday, but could benefit from a more refined sense of design in merchandising. I did manage to spend about $50 overall on holiday stuff before I wandered over to the grocery side of the store!

Will Pigs Fly for Holiday Shoppers?

Retail is the craziest business, especially over the holiday season. Already, toys and TV’s are being marked down as the battle for the shopper dollar heats up.

This holiday, I’m waiting to see when the pigs will fly. And being the shopper culture nut that I am, I may be lurking around Lowe’s just to watch it happen.

In September I visited a Lowe’s store on James Island, SC with my daughter. We’re happily tinkling wind chimes while the store crew sets up racks of twinkling lawn art.  Expecting reindeer, Santa and snowmen, and chuckling that it’s an 80 degree September day, we find boxes of garish chicken families and a flying pig. Chickens and Pigs??? For $38 bucks?

ShopperAnnie chalks this up to a regional merchandising strategy, after all, this is Charleston, SC. Reindeer and Santa twinkling on green lawns might not be quite authentic enough. I decide I’ll never see the pigs fly on a Michigan lawn over the holidays.

Then, on November 7, while rustling up more daffodil bulbs at my local Lowe’s in Michigan, I walk the holiday aisles to prove myself right, only to find an entire shelf of Flying Pigs,  ready to light up someone’s lawn and life over the 2010 Holiday season.

I’m not sure I can stop myself from hanging around the aisles at Lowe’s and chatting up shoppers until I can learn who really wants twinkling Flying Pigs and why! Maybe if they mark them down…..