by Jeffrey Gottheil

The Christmas season is approaching and I’m sure you’re looking forward (as I am) to the whole shopping experience of finding that special something for that special someone. Sure, year after year we tell ourselves that we’ll shop early, shop on a weekday, won’t bring the kids, will have a list and know exactly what we want and where to get it. That’s all great in principle, but when you have a 30-minute window between your daughter’s karate class and your son’s swimming lesson, all the planning, all the lists and all the rules just don’t seem to apply anymore.

It’s great when the store provides free gift wrapping, free coat checking, free delivery, a free gift with purchase, great prices, great service, a great return policy and a great selection of merchandise up until one hour before the store closes on December 24th. But this type of “Value-add” (effective as it might be) only tells a consumer Where to buy a product, not What to buy once they arrive. POP (Point of Purchase) material/displays not only bring attention to your product but also provide the consumer with a better understanding and appreciation of it.

According to the Point of Purchase Advertising Institute, 72% of all purchase decisions are made in-store. Willard Bishop Consulting found that in 1995 it took three TV spots to reach 80% of women aged 18 to 49. In 2000 — only five years later — it took 97 spots to reach the same number. Instore marketing is your last – and best – chance to make a sale.

In terms of value, look at POP this way: if you purchase a 4″ x 4″ black & white ad in a local newspaper for only one day, it could cost you from $500 to $750 for the media buy alone. But you can design, produce and ship a full-color display for half that amount. It could remain on the shelf for three years, reaching an audience (depending on the store/traffic) in the millions. And your display is in a store environment, where the consumer has cash in hand and is ready to buy.

Does POP have to be different during the holiday season? Yes and No. It’s important all year round. However, you need to understand the mindset of the consumer during the time of purchase. During the Christmas season people are running around trying to find that right gift for the right person. The weather is cooler, so the chance of a consumer wearing outerwear is greater: they are warmer and therefore more easily stressed. Add to this the kids, the husband, the money, the time factor, and the realization that all the salespeople who are usually there to help inform the purchase decision have now been “promoted” to cashiers.

At this time of year, salespeople are there to process the order, not sell your product. Without POP, your package is the only thing you’ve got to inform the consumer and sell your product. Packaging by itself is a poor communicator: it may have been designed abroad, have legal disclaimers in several languages (all in mouse-readable type size) and a list of contents that reduces your carefully nurtured brand position to a mere list of features – IF the consumer didn’t leave her reading glasses at home. People don’t want to pay for the product AND work to understand it. Thoughtfully designed POP can act as surrogate salesperson at this busy season.

One big difference at Christmas is the practice of including gifts with purchase; this too impacts POP design. If you’re offering a gift with purchase that will be perceived as high value, then physically feature it in the display. If the gift is more hype than substance, feature it as a photo insert. If possible, offer the gift in its own box and shrink-wrap it to attach to the main box: consumers always perceive two physical items as having greater value than one item.

I don’t recommend offering the gift at the cash register, because it may be available at only one location in the store – again you make the customer work for it. (On the other hand, the advantage of stocking the gift at the cash is that other people will be exposed to your product and promotion.) But if you do this, make sure the gift is demonstrated at the shelf level first.

Here are a few simple rules to follow in establishing a good POP display program.

POP Rule #1: Don’t rely on the store to sell your product for you. Incorporate key selling features in your display that will appeal to your customers and combat competitive claims.

POP Rule# 2: Design your graphics to clearly reinforce your existing brand attributes. Consistency with your advertised message is paramount.

POP Rule #3: Don’t rely on the sales people to know the specific features and competitive advantages of your product.

POP Rule #4: Don’t rely on your packaging alone to provide information to the consumer.

POP Rule #5: Have your product openly displayed so a consumer can actually touch it. If possible, feature the accessories, too.