July 21, 2024


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How retailers can tap into the power of nostalgia at Christmas

How retailers can tap into the power of nostalgia at Christmas

Going shopping is one of a child’s primary memories. It is one of our first and most powerful experiences of encountering the wider world outside of the home. First, we accompany mum or dad on shopping trips. Later, one of our greatest rites of passage is to go up to a counter and buy something ourselves. This tests our confidence. Initially, we need a parent nearby to support us as we transact in an impersonal and more demanding world. As we grow older, we have more and more power in the shop

shoppingexperience. We pester and get things and become stronger influencers over parental choices.

Often in research, I hear people talk about their childhood shopping experiences with great fondness. Products seemed magical and you were nearly always guaranteed to get something, however small.

When asked to choose their favourite brands, numerous people pick out retailers such as Myer due to their childhood shopping experiences.

When people grow up and have a family, they often seek to replicate these feelings. Despite living in a busy, time-poor and digital world, parents still want to give their children the magic of shopping.

Retail at Christmas is a key time for children to feel the spectacle of shopping that parents remember fondly. Christmas trees, Santa, tinsel and so on are magical for children.

Retail has always played a powerful role in helping children feel this special, magical time full of ancient symbolism. Through experiencing a retail Christmas, children learn what it means to celebrate, have heightened experiences over the year and participate in shared meaning.

So how might Covid have changed this whole dynamic?

The changes to our shopping habits post-pandemic are well documented. For starters, we have become savvy online transactors. But it’s not only our behaviours that have shifted; it’s also our emotional needs. People have been fearful and cheated of normal social lives and family time. In times of crisis like the one we have endured, we seek comfort in two ways: looking into the future for hope or looking to the past for comfort.

The past is very comforting, even though it does not exist. It is only a few molecules in our minds. Because of this, we can shape the past according to our needs. We remember it selectively, emphasising things that we like or need.

Perhaps most importantly we tend to see the past as safe and unchanging. It feels set in stone. Things always seem more simple and better if we look back at history – like they had something we have lost.

After Covid, and in a climate change apocalyptic world, many people will be remembering their Christmases of the past in a comforting way because back then things were gentle, simple, less stressful and had a natural sense of order as opposed to chaos. We look forward with fear, but we look back with reassurance.

While some of us will be looking to a future Christmas, for example, one that is sustainable, many will be remembering a past Christmas.

When being nostalgic at this time we could be yearning for a simple, more meaningful Christmas that is less stressful. Or perhaps a Christmas which is driven by giving children joy without the stress of comparison through social media. I feel sure we will be hoping for meaningful connections with others.

Personally, Covid has made me more demanding of Christmas. I want the festive season to give me joy and not put me through a charade of social performances, rounds of parties and the company of people I do not like so much. Through lockdowns, I have learnt to the value of being selective with whom I let into my life. Connections have to feel meaningful or I am not too interested.

If my feelings this Christmas represent Australians more broadly, perhaps retailers this year need to find ways to capture that loving, sensitive and more joyous traditional Christmas feeling that we knew as children.

Clever retailers should look for ways to help shoppers recreate the spirit of Christmas as they knew it in the past. One way is to invoke the deeper symbolism of Christmas; not just its religious stories but symbolism such as Father Christmas.

I’d wager that traditional food and cooking methods we knew as children will be popular.

As the holidays approach, retailers looking to tap into nostalgia should think about teaching children more about the spirit of Christmas and reminding people of its values. This can extend into assisting shoppers to choose, wrap and give presents with love and thought. Perhaps focus on making Christmas more interactive for the children.

Or my personal wish – help ease the drama and up the love this Christmas. That’s a memory that will stay with me for years to come and is sure to influence my shopping habits.