Beware the weary consumer

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As we gear up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the pundits are out in full force. Some in the business and trade media supply predictions of holiday spending and retail success (or lack thereof), and others in more consumer-oriented environments inform consumers how they can take advantage of retail patterns during the period.

There are plenty of economic factors that could contribute to a poor holiday season; our Gloves Off contenders opposite this page handily outline many of them. But another factor that could have a very real, detrimental effect on fourth quarter spending is the old nemesis of the marketing industry: The jaded consumer. These are the people who approach the holiday season less with excitement and wonder, more with a weary sense of inevitability.

A quick look at Consumerist.com, an influential consumer blog, last week showcased, in a single day's posts, a disbelieving person who says he went into a Best Buy and saw associates (falsely, and repeatedly) claiming the Nintendo Wii they were parading through the store was the last one; a list of recalled toys that still appeared in retailers' holiday gift guides; and a guide to beating retailers at their own game on Black Friday.

The fact is, for increasing numbers of people at this time of year, shopping is not joyful. To them it's a zero-sum game of gotcha, and they believe they're wise to every tactic retailers use to lure them in, whether online or in bricks-and-mortar stores.

Most multichannel retailers I have talked to have suggested that the mainstream media are painting an artificially dire picture of the season's fortunes, and there are indeed signs of hope for many retailers. The caution is simply for retailers to ensure they're paying attention to all of the factors that define their success or failure — not least the experience the consumer has in the retail environment.

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