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Why brands and retailers like Ross-Simons and Macy’s are jumping on the advent calendar bandwagon

The holidays are often a peak time for jewelry sales. But this year, 70-year-old jewelry brand Ross-Simons wanted to try something different, so it introduced four curated advent calendars featuring sparkling pieces meant to countdown to Christmas.

Jane Wasserman, senior vice president of merchandising, said her team started planning its “12 Days of Christmas” advent calendars about a year ago. Inspired by the boom of advent calendars across the retail industry, each contains 12 pieces of earrings, necklaces and other pieces to offer a full “jewelry wardrobe.”

“Advent calendars happen to just be very trendy right now, whether it’s in the beauty business or cookie business,” Wasserman said.

From Aldi’s to Legos to Sephora, the advent calendar trend in holiday retail continues to boom. Sales executives say the novelty of an assortment of products, plus the scarcity of a limited edition, once-a-year collection, help fuel the popularity. But hopping on the trend requires careful data-driven curation and planning to ensure the boxes are a hit with shoppers in a crowded landscape.

Beauty calendars from Anthropologie, for example, are available for pre-orders, which helps fuel the limited-edition mindset. Bonne Manman’s fruit preserves calendar sells out so quickly it limits customers to two per order. And larger retailers like Macy’s reinforce the trend by adding more and more types of boxes to their stock each year.​​

At Ross-Simons, Wasserman and her team examined top-selling pieces and aimed to come up with assortments at a variety of price points and styles.

At $495, the sterling silver set is the best seller so far. The $1,995 gold set from RS Pure, the brand’s contemporary line, is meant to cater to younger consumers with an assortment of trendy staples like paper clip link chains and gold hoops. The priciest collection of diamond-encrusted pieces goes for $4,995, with a value of over $5,400 if purchased individually.

“I thought I could provide some more affordable options for what most people are going to spend on a Christmas gift,” Wasserman said, citing a Tiffany’s advent calendar going for $120,000.

The brand stocked up with 300 total boxes and is on track to sell out. Marketing has included email and social media pushes, plus a launch party in New York City.

The success already has Wasserman thinking about next year, as well as how to create other collections for holidays like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day.

“I think that it’s just a great gift giving idea,” Wasserman said. “I think they’ll evolve, and we’ll see what our customers respond to and come up with different versions.”

A new calendar every year

Advent calendars typically mark a 24-day countdown to Christmas with a door, box or compartment. The practice stems from the four-week observation of Advent in the Christian church. The countdown practice is believed to have started with Lutherans in Germany in the 19th century who marked the countdown from Dec. 1 to Dec. 24 with chalk or candles.

But it took off as popular secular way to celebrate the season in the mid-20th century. Candy company Cadbury initially launching advent calendars in the 1970s. Other popular early versions of advent calendars might have a figurine moved to a new space to countdown each day.

But recent years have seen an explosion of brands get into the trend with a product-filled calendar to suit all budgets, tastes and styles. They may range from the sweet and thoughtful — like a Lindt truffle assortment on sale for $17.49 — to sexy and luxe like lingerie brand Hanky Panky’s 25-pack of low rise thongs for $660.

Macy’s has sold advent calendars years as part of its holiday gift selection. But as the trend has grown, it’s become a staple across sectors: this year, the retailer offers 15 in beauty, 10 in food and two in jewelry. There are also 25 toy advent calendars, up from five last year.

Macy’s wouldn’t share sales figures for advent calendars, but reports “strong customer engagement” and continues to grow the assortment each year. One new addition for 2022 is a “12 Days of Kylie” advent calendar for $180 that features full sized pieces from Kylie Jenner’s namesake line.

Nicolette Bosco, head of beauty merch, told Modern Retail that advent calendars are among the most popular beauty products that sell during the holiday season. That includes a sold-out Macy’s-branded “25 Days of Beauty” box that this year includes sample sizes of cult favorites like First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream, and Bareminerals setting powder.

The team curates the boxes months in advance, basing product decisions of sales data and trending items.

“We recreate it and bring a new version to our customer every year,” Bosco said. “It’s been a part of our assortment for many years, and we’ve continued to build on it based on where the consumer is saying she wants.”

Another part of the allure, Bosco said, is the novelty. “There could be some items in it that are beloved and some that you’ve been wanting to try and explore,” she said.

Across social media, YouTube and TikTok, advent calendars are often spotted in unboxing videos. And while it could be extra promotion for the brand, it also could turn into a roast: Chanel faced backlash for its $825 advent calendar last year after a TikToker complained about the value of items like a paperweight, wax bracelet and temporary tattoos.

Bosco said ensuring a quality advent calendar means looking at the items a customer is most likely to want, or want to try.

“We use our trend forecasting team from our fashion office to forecast out to see what the consumer is saying, and then the data and analytics,” she said. “It’s been a part of our assortment for many years and we’ve continued to build on it based on where the consumer is saying she wants.”

Scarce and special

Sales experts say the concept limited edition, one-of-a-kind gift also fuels the interest. Anthropologie has offered a beauty advent calendar since 2018. Part of the George and Viv collection, it sells out faster each year, Anthropologie’s senior product and packaging manager, Stefania Squitieri, told Modern Retail.

The box includes 24 deluxe-sized samples that are nestled in their own mini box inside a larger illustrated keepsake box. Every year offers a new assortment, and new artwork.

“We have increased quantity and the sales just keep getting bigger,” she said, adding that “we have upped the ante in terms of the value of contents.”

Squitieri attributes the popularity of the calendar to consumers’ appetite to try many new products in one purchase. It’s also become a hit for repeat annual purchases; since 2020 the calendar has been offered for sale with a pre-shop.

“The idea of scarcity has also become a big part of this calendar as we continue to sell out faster each year and it really becomes a ‘get it while you can’ type of event for our customer,” she said.