Oct 10, 2021 - Economy

Retailers want nothing to do with Columbus Day

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Columbus Day sale — a longtime ritual for car dealers and department stores — is dead.

The big picture: Retailers are moving away from big sales events in general, and are especially eager to distance themselves from this particularly disputatious federal holiday, which falls on Monday.

The intrigue: For years, states and municipalities have started renaming "Columbus Day" as "Indigenous Peoples' Day" to protest the legacy of colonialism that hangs over Christopher Columbus' so-called "discovery" of America.

  • The last thing retailers want is to get caught in the culture wars.
  • "I think this one is an easy one that they can just say, 'Hey, I'm just going to rename the sale or cancel the sale and not worry about it," says Katie Thomas, leader of the Kearney Consumer Institute, a think tank within the management consulting firm Kearney.
  • Plus, fewer people get a day off of work for Columbus Day than in the past, so they don't have a long weekend to go shopping.

Driving the news: Canceling or scaling back big sales events this year would be an especially easy call. This season's well-documented "Everything Shortage" means that retailers don't know what inventory they'll have in a few weeks, and thus can't plan marketing campaigns ahead of time.

  • "If you make a big deal about this weekend and say you’re going to have a lot of great products, you’re going to basically set yourself up for a stockout and disappoint a bunch of people," Marc Rousset, a partner in the retail and consumer goods practice at the consulting firm Oliver Wyman, tells Axios.

But even after supply chains and inventories finally stabilize, whenever that may be, retailers probably will still be scaling back big one-weekend-only sales events.

  • "Some of those sales are just a little bit outdated or relics of the past," Thomas tells Axios. "Some of the traditional department store sales, like a white sale, just aren't quite as relevant any more."

What's next: Expect to see fewer department and big-box stores pegging big sales to federal holidays.

  • "I wouldn't be surprised to see Memorial Day [sales] go next," Rousset said.
  • "That's kind of bold — I don't know that I would bet the farm on that — but I think people, you know, see the benefits of simplifying."
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