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Can your brand create a Christmas miracle?

Another year of coal stockings for lying retailers

By Ed Lynes

My inbox started filling up the early part of Thanksgiving week. Retailers peppered me with inducements — 70% off! In store only! Instead, on Black Friday, I went to the movies. I was not alone in passing on this year’s sales.

Does this reflect a broad shift to shopping online? If true, those outlets are no less desperate. I received seven e-mails on Cyber Monday from one retailer alone, and woke up on Dec. 1 to a litany of “sale extended one more day” messages. Adobe Analytics sees deceleration in online sales, too. So what gives?

The universal response to this drop in attention has been to make up margin on volume. Macy’s is committing more fully to its discount chain. Gap is continuing to bleed.

Isolating this phenomenon to Black Friday would be a mistake. Department stores, from Macy’s to Nordstrom, are being hammered this year. Yet, both Apple and Amazon scored their biggest Black Fridays ever this year.

Why is Macy’s different?

Shopping at Macy’s, in-store or online, sucks.

Walk into an Apple Store, and you enter a bright, welcoming space. Associates immediately approach you and offer to help. The salaried team members are not focused on a sale — they want to show how an Apple product makes your life easier. Hit, and retargeting presents me with offers on the sunglasses brand I Googled last week. These experiences are consistent with their brand promise: at Apple, I expect a well-designed experience that simplifies my life. Amazon promises to deliver me the exact product I want, instantaneously.

Now go visit The first thing you see is a pop-up ad offering an additional 10% off for getting a Macy’s credit card. Then a generic menu, asking me to sort into which category I want to shop in (are cufflinks under mens? Or accessories?).

It’s disorganized.

In-store is no better. I walked into the Center City Macy’s last week, and was confronted with a dated-looking store. Salespeople seemed more interested in avoiding me or talking to each other than helping. In-store signs looked tired, and had remnants of old tape on them. Stacked apparel looked hastily folded. No one — customers or employees — looked happy to be there.

Here’s Macy’s signature holiday ad this year.

At 2:23 they walk into a Macy’s that does not exist anywhere on this planet. It’s bright, welcoming, and full of happy, smiling people. It is a magical place that makes dreams come true. That’s a store that anyone would love to visit!

People don’t shop at Macy’s because it does not deliver on its own brand promise.

Blaming the Internet for declining sales and decreased foot traffic is easy. But it’s wrong. Great marketing is authentic. It tells a powerful story about a brand, but one that the brand delivers on in every customer experience. An authentic story is reinforced by the sales experience, and creates evangelists for a brand. Disingenuous messaging not only doesn’t work, it erodes trust in your audience and creates long-term resentment.

Improving retail won’t come from a race to the bottom. It needs to be driven like any other improved sales performance: through a powerful, authentic narrative that is delivered during every interaction with the brand.

Ed Lynes is a founding partner at Woden. Whatever your storytelling needs may be, let Woden help. Download our free StoryGuide, or send us an email at to discuss how we can help tell your story.