In six days, the traditional Christmas shopping season will begin on the Friday after Thanksgiving. What this means is that every retail reporter on every business news desk in the country will be trolling the malls and looking for new and unique ways to cover the biggest five weeks of the retail season every year. For a number of retailers, their sales and profits in the next six weeks will determine their success for the entire year.
Here are some offbeat retail beat stories that I once did in an attempt to bring somewhat of a different perspective to the typical Christmas retail shopping stories:
1. When I was at the Tampa Tribune, I spent the day after Christmas driving around on a garbage truck? Why, Dec. 26 is the busiest garbage day of the year, just like the Saturday before Christmas is the busiest shopping day of the year. We saw presents that were thrown out — with the wrapping still on the package.
2. When I was at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the first Christmas shopping season I covered I spent the Friday after Thanksgiving shadowing a Target store manager, beginning at about 5 a.m. when she arrived at the store. You get a much different perspective of the first major shopping day when you spend it looking at it from the store manager’s perspective.
3. Also in Atlanta, I spent one Dec. 26 with two women who were shopping for NEXT year’s Christmas — only 364 days in advance. That was definitely a different perspective to the Christmas retail season.
4. Having worked at a Honey Baked Ham store in suburban Atlanta during the Christmas holidays while I was in college, I knew how important the Christmas season was to ham stores. They get about 75 percent of their annual sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas. One year, the staff in the back worked 18 hours glazing hams, with the store managers bringing in pizzas for us to eat. So I wrote a story one year about the Ham Wars between Honey Baked Ham, Hickory Ham and the other ham store locations in Atlanta. This is an angle to Christmas shopping that few examine.
5. I also went out one Dec. 24 to find the stereotypical guys doing their last-minute shopping. That was a fun story, watching them frantically try to find presents for girlfriends, wives, kids, etc.
How did I find these people? For some of them, like the Dec. 24 story, I just went to the mall and looked for guys who appeared to be playing hooky from work. For some of the other stories, the newspaper ran a small box on the front of the business section asking for readers who might fit the profile of someone who shops 364 days in advance for Christmas to contact us. For the garbage story, it simply took calling the local sanitation company. They were more than happy to oblige, although it meant getting to the dump at 4:30 a.m. the day after Christmas to begin writing the story.
The point is this: Don’t just write the typical retail story that interviews store managers on the Friday after Thanksgiving. They’re all going to say that sales are good. And don’t just regurgitate the numbers that assess whether Christmas sales are up or down from the previous year. Have some fun writing Christmas retail and think outside the box.