ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS A PRESIDENT-ELECT.
The classics are a-blaring from every speaker in every mall in every version. (Could history have predicted that Louis Armstrong, Enya and Def Leppard would all have covered "Silver Bells"?) GAP posters display fuzzy sweater-wearing come-ons in regions not needing sweaters. Bath and Body Works is trotting out the silver country theme this year, and Victoria's Secret is making marabou go farther than ever. Lord & Taylor's windows look Tim Burtonesque and Barney's is doing the '60s like a great old rerun of "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." Tinsel Town is every town, and everyone is dressed for the holidays albeit, on beer budgets with faux fur that looks as if it was borrowed from a willing yak
But in the 10 malls (in five states) I've visited in the last two weeks, this is what I've observed: modest decorations and immodest inventories.
Immodest like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
But the goods are in. They're stocked. To the gills. More inventory than I've ever seen. The department stores are crammed. In a J.C. Penney store in Queens, N.Y., I saw sweaters stacked higher on one little table than is humanly possible. Retailers are expressing hope through the expenditure of inventory dollars like children crowding beside a plate of cookies next to the chimney.
Now all we need is to get a president to slide down the chimney and straight into the registers. Uncertainty -- like evil troll invasions and hot lava flows -- and that fickle friend, the stock market, always make for dodgy shopping. Who will it be? It's less of a game now. People are uneasy. Funny how lack of trust can keep one's wallet in one's pants. (Oh yeah, it keeps everything in one's pants.)
At this strange fulcrum in history, in this usual seasonal haunt, you've got to give to receive. Give those customers coming through that door or portal not just "stuff," but as much love and appreciation as you possibly can. Have a love-in with your staff and beg them to pass it along. Help them feel secure -- your staff and your customers. For one thing, it's the only way you're going to move that colossal merch. Acknowledge, honor and celebrate your customers as much as the season itself. Ask them what they want, then give it to them.
So the decorations are cheap. So we don't have, say, a president. We have each other. (And we've got loads of stuff!) Let's all get dressed up, go to the mall and join Bert Convey over the speakers singing, "Oh, what fun it is to ride ..."
J'Amy Owens is president of The Retail Group Inc., a full-service brand strategy, design and consulting firm based in Seattle. Contact The Retail Group through its Web site, www.theretailgroup.com, or call (206) 441-8330.