Whatever Happened to Christmas Clubs?

by Celeste Bishop

in Web Marketing Strategy

I watched the news this Thanksgiving weekend and it was both horrifying and fascinating. The horrific news involved a Wal-Mart employee on Long Island who was trampled to death by oblivious Black Friday shoppers who broke down the door to get into the store and the reported bargains.

The fascinating part? All the media counting down to what was presumed to be the worse holiday season for retailers in over 20 years. Did the media create a self-fulfilling prophecy that whipped people into this frenzy?

It left me wondering how life got this far out of control.

What kind of financial pressures could these folks be feeling to even want to stand outside all night long waiting for some impersonal Big Box retailer to open their doors at 5 am? What kind of stress is so crushing that you are oblivious to another human being trampled to death as you walk over him on your way to a bargain?

So, I started thinking about the less hyped holidays that I knew as a young child in Ohio. I recalled how I saved money all year long in my “Christmas Club” at my community bank. How I looked forward to cashing that check and going shopping. And what a delightful and civilized experience it was. Now we are in the age of instant everything — including instant banking in a world without Christmas Clubs (at least that I know of).

Banking these days involves a growing slew of online banking services, including my favorite – remote deposits. Instant information, instant access and instant gratification is now moving into community banking as well as the big guys who see remote deposit banking as an entre into local communities. Will the local community banks survive?

Will local banks be able to fight off Big Box Banking? Will they help us to retain our sense of community, caring and civility that was so lacking at the Long Island Wal-Mart? In some way they seem emblematic of local communities’ fights to retain their identity and values.

As a web strategist and marketer I don’t see many local banks taking advantage of online marketing to help them grow deposits and retain existing customers in the face of Big Box competition – and it makes me nervous. I think we need them as much as they need us.

A Pew Internet & American Life project showed that fully 53% of the U.S. Adult Internet users (39% of the entire adult population) were banking online by September 2007. Local banks seems to be offering a growing array of online banking services, yet I do not observe a commensurate increase in the use of highly effective online marketing tactics.

How then will community banks be able to maintain a competitive edge over Big Box Banks if the big guys offer the same services that local banks offer online AND they are more effective in using web marketing to take local customers away?

Local Banks — Time to Wake Up. The fabric of our community needs you. And you need you to become more sophisticated at web marketing to remain competitive.

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