In some European countries Christmas is not the only major holiday to be celebrated in December. In The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and parts of Germany, Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas day) is celebrated in early December. Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany celebrate on the morning of the 6th; while the Netherlands celebrate on the evening of the 5th. This holiday has been celebrated since the 15th century, with various markets and presents for children.
Due to the complaints from many Protestant Christians against this mainly Catholic celebration, the holiday has evolved into a children’s holiday. A man dressed up as Sinterklaas with men and women dressed as his helpers arrive via steamboat in a Dutch or Belgium Harbor around the 15th of November. Arriving 3 weeks prior to his celebration date, shops have the opportunity to exploit this holiday all the way through November.
This holiday is not only celebrated with (luxurious) presents, but also with sweets, decorations and luxurious dinners – a great opportunity for retailers to maximize sales through promotions. In 2013, online and offline retailers booked €500 million profit on top of their normal sales, of which €225 million was made by online retailers. This came down to an extra 47% on their weekly online sales between November 1st and December 5th. This was a growth of 20% compared to 2012, and a growth of more than 300% since 2009. It is expected that 2014 will be another record year of profit around Sinterklaas.
A study by MarketingFacts indicated the shift between online and offline sales will increase in the coming years. It is expected that the online sales will not replace offline sales, but rather complement each other. The physical shops create an experience with decorated shop windows, markets and Sinterklaas meet-and-greets in shopping centers. This is an experience that most people do not want to lose, but they also want the convenience of being able to shop wherever they are and do it 24/7. The Dutch are generally known to be price conscious and compare prices for almost everything they buy. If they can find their presents cheaper online, and generally online retailers can be more competitive, most Dutch will purchase online.
Next to advertising via the traditional channels (TV and radio), Sinterklaas has found its way to social media and email marketing. Because the e-commerce around Sinterklaas is growing every year, retailers are trying creative ways to draw consumers to their online store. Large online retailer Bol.com – comparable to Amazon – uses rhyme in their email campaigns, as rhyming is a tradition when giving presents with Sinterklaas.
In 2013, the first Sinterklaas email campaigns started around the 4th of November, with the release of at least one campaign every day onwards, reaching a high on November 29th with 11 new email campaigns.
Next to email marketing, social media is a popular way for retailers to market their products. Social media games, competitions and ‘like and share’ campaigns are plentiful. Most campaigns are aimed at children, as they have a large influence on what their parents buy.
Traditionally, there are many Sinterklaas themed TV shows in November and December, now these TV shows start referring to apps, social media and websites. This led to a rise in Sinterklaas facebook groups, twitter hashtags and advertisements on social media. Most successful campaigns for children should follow a narrative, e.g. the popular stories or new adventures for Sinterklaas. Campaigns for adults work best when they are playful and creative on the subject. Be sure to deliver a good and qualitative well-made campaign, as Facebook and Twitter are platforms on which campaigns turn negative real quickly.
Getting yourself in the right location on Google search results is important if you want to compete with all existing online retailers. Over the months of November and December there are over 5.3 million Google searches containing the word “Sinterklaas”. Ranging from Sinterklaas games, food, ideas for presents and TV shows, being visible in search results in more profit for your online store.
Top 5 Sinterklaas searches:
- Sinterklaas intocht (Entrance of Sinterklaas in the country)
- Sinterklaas gedichten (poems)
- Sinterklaas surprise (surprise evening with presents)
- Sinterklaas cadeau/kado (Sinterklaas presents)
- Sinterklaas journal (News program around Sinterklaas)
Knowing what you’re target audience likes to buy/receive for presents is important in your campaign to reach them. They often follow trends in technology, toys or jewelry. For 2013 these we’re the best selling products online:
- LEGO, Starwars, Playmobil
- Playstation 4 and games
- Tablets and smartphones
- Space scooters
Most of the top selling products are predictable, as there is normally a buzz surrounding it for months. Polling your target audience will give you great insights into where the large demand is going to be this year. Never presume that countries will have the same demand for products. E.g. The Xbox One is not in the top five of last year as it was only released for the Dutch audience since September 2014. The Xbox One was released in the UK and the US before Christmas 2013.
Black Pete Controversy
For years there has been a discussion questioning if the character of Black Pete is racist and trivialises slavery. Black Pete characters are men and women dressed as Sinterklaas’s helpers, often painted black, wearing a curly wig and colourful clothes. Since 2013 it gained worldwide attention when the UN became involved in the discussion. In the Netherlands it is a very sensitive topic and it has been dividing the country more and more in recent years.
The political consensus favours a gradual move away from the racial stereotyping (suggestions include white, orange, yellow or even rainbow “petes”). Consumers now look at companies to see their position on the matter. Choosing the wrong side can prove to be disastrous for retailers whichever way they decide to go. This year (2014), an internal email from HEMA – a large retailer of own brand household goods – leaked, saying they want to ban the likeness of Black Pete from their stores.
This sparked a massive online boycott towards shopping at HEMA. The hashtag #hemaboycot was trending for weeks on Dutch Twitter, which led to weeks of negative publicity for HEMA. Other major Dutch Brands such as Bijenkorf and Jumbo supermarkets have indicated they will not ban it from their stores. It is expected that Jumbo’s market share will increase because of this. For new retailers it is advised not to take a too firm stand in the discussion, as Dutch consumers are very sensitive about this subject.
Hans Hoogenboom is a User Experience Executive at Oban Digital.