Keep­ing a list: Re­tail­ers rated on use of term ‘Christ­mas’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARDSON

DEN­VER | The Gap is naughty, Tar­get is nice, and Dick’s Sport­ing Goods is a lit­tle of both, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary re­sults of Fo­cus on the Fam­ily’s an­nual Stand for Christ­mas project, which in­vites shop­pers to eval­u­ate re­tail­ers based on their Christ­mas-friend­li­ness.

Now in its third year, the Stand for Christ­mas Web site asks cus­tomers to rate stores and pro­vide on­line eval­u­a­tions based on how read­ily they em­brace the word “Christ­mas” and its themes. The scores are up­dated con­tin­u­ously on the stand­forchrist­ Web site.

Stores that specif­i­cally men­tion Christ­mas in their ad­ver­tis­ing and dec­o­ra­tions, or whose sales clerks wish their cus­tomers “Merry Christ­mas,” are more likely to win a “Friendly” rat­ing. Re­tail­ers that set­tle for a “Happy Hol­i­days” ap­proach to the sea­son are likely to re­ceive a rat­ing of “Neg­li­gent” or even “Of­fen­sive.”

Not all re­tail­ers fall neatly into one camp or the other. The scores re­flect the var­ied ex­pe­ri­ences of cus­tomers. For ex- am­ple, Dick’s Sport­ing Goods re­ceived a score of 39 per­cent Friendly, 43 per­cent Neg­li­gent and 17 per­cent Of­fen­sive, ac­cord­ing to the re­sults as of Dec. 21.

The idea is to en­cour­age re­tail­ers to keep the Christ in Christ­mas and counter the re­cent drift to­ward the sec­u­lar­iza­tion of the hol­i­day, said Fo­cus on the Fam­ily’s Car­rie Gor­don Earll.

“We’ve seen in re­cent years there’s been a trend to­ward mov­ing away from Christ­mas and to­ward kind of generic greet­ings like ‘Happy Hol­i­days,’ not only in stores but in ad­ver­tis­ing and mes­sag­ing,” said Mrs. Earll, Fo­cus’s se­nior di­rec­tor of is­sues anal­y­sis, in a Dec. 18 video mes­sage.

Fo­cus no­ti­fied the 29 stores se­lected for the project in ad­vance, and plans to send them the re­sults, in­clud­ing de­mo­graphic data, at the end of the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son. The re­tail­ers range from depart­ment stores such as Dil­lard’s Inc. and J.C. Pen­ney Co. Inc. to cat­a­log com­pa­nies like L.L. Bean and Lands’ End.

“It’s about build­ing re­la­tion­ships as well as pro­mot­ing Christ­mas,” Mrs. Earll said.

So far, thou­sands of shop­pers have par­tic­i­pated in the project by rank­ing stores, writ­ing re­views and send­ing mes­sages to re­tail­ers, which can be done on the Web site. The site had re­ceived about 125,000 hits as of mid-De­cem­ber.

The most Christ­mas-friendly store to date? That would be Bass Pro Shops, which has re­ceived a 98 per­cent Friendly rat­ing. The stores, which spe­cial­ize in out­door recre­ational gear, set up an elab­o­rate Christ­mas Vil­lage each year for chil­dren, ad­ver­tise “Christ­mas sales,” and greet cus­tomers with “Merry Christ­mas,” ac­cord­ing to the Web site’s com­ments.

“I was very sur­prised and very pleased to hear the Christ­mas car­ols with all verses over the [pub­lic-ad­dress sys­tem], even the lyrics cel­e­brat­ing Je­sus be­ing born as the Son of God!” ac­cord­ing to one com­ment.

Other re­tail­ers earn­ing top marks for their com­mit­ment to Christ­mas were Ca­bela’s, Dil­lard’s, J.C. Pen­ney, Kmar t, Kohl’s, Lands’ End, and Sears.

Those in dan­ger of find­ing lumps of coal in their stock­ings in­clude the Gap, Old Navy and Ba­nana Repub­lic. All three are owned by Gap Inc., and so far none has re­ceived a Friendly per­cent­age higher than 12 per­cent. The Gap chain has an Of­fen­sive rat­ing of 80 per­cent.

Those post­ing com­ments said they were par­tic­u­larly of­fended by the Gap’s 2009 hol­i­day ad cam­paign. The tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials show dancers chant­ing, “Go, Christ­mas! Go, Hanukkah! Go, Kwan­zaa! Go, sol­stice!”

“You 86 the rules. You do what just feels right. Happy do-what­ever-you-want-to-do and to all, a cheery night!” says the tele­vi­sion ad.

While the ads men­tion Christ­mas, many of those post­ing com­ments were of­fended by the mes­sage’s who-cares at­ti­tude.

“I agree that the ads, in the in­ter­est of be­ing ‘in­clu­sive,’ are ac­tu­ally of­fen­sive to peo­ple of faith,” said one com­ment on the Stand for Christ­mas Web site.

Gap Inc. is­sued a state­ment say­ing that, as a global re­tailer, its brands “em­brace di­ver­sity across all of our cus­tomers, and more im­por­tantly re­spect their be­liefs as in­di­vid­u­als.”

The com­pany also de­nied ac­cu­sa­tions that it doesn’t use the word Christ­mas, point­ing to its Gap tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials and its Old Navy ads show­ing man­nequins who say, “Merr y Christ­mas.”

“Re­flect­ing our long-held phi­los­o­phy to em­brace a va­ri­ety of be­liefs, we in­vite our cus­tomers to cel­e­brate the hol­i­days in their own way,” said the Dec. 8 state­ment.

Fo­cus is back­ing its proChrist­mas mes­sage to re­tail­ers with hard data. In a Fo­cus-com­mis­sioned sur­vey con­ducted in March by Wil­son Re­search Strate­gies, 60 per­cent of those sur­veyed said they fa­vor the use of “Merry Christ­mas” over “Happy Hol­i­days.” Of those, 44 per­cent said they would be more likely to shop at stores that use “Merry Christ­mas” in their ad­ver­tis­ing.

The re­sults of a Ras­mussen Re­ports sur­vey re­leased in Novem­ber were even more dra­matic, show­ing that 72 per­cent of those sur­veyed fa­vored “Merry Christ­mas” over a more sec­u­lar mes­sage.

“Re­tail­ers need to just know that peo­ple care about Christ­mas,” Mrs. Earll said. “They want to have that ref­er­enced as they’re shop­ping.”

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