By AnnaMaria Andriotis
Leprechaun costumes. Fries with green dipping sauce. Eire-inspired Margaritas mixed with Jameson whiskey. These are just some of the products retailers are selling this St. Patrick’s Day as part of a growing effort to cash in on the luck of the Irish.
Experts say a growing number of shops, including fast food chains, clothes stores and tech manufacturers, highlight the holiday in their sales and marketing. This is the first year McDonald’s is selling its Shamrock Shake – a milkshake with a minty twist – nationwide. It’s also the first time Burger King will give away free fries (in a Shamrock-labeled holder) along with green “St. Paddy’s Sauce.” Party City expanded its assortment of Irish costumes: adults can go all out if they dare with Leprechaun costumes or “Good Luck Charm” outfits for women. For partygoers who want a more subtle look, regular-priced green shoes are 17% off at John Fluevog, a high-end shoe designer.
More retailers are also holding shamrock-sales. There’s a roughly 52% increase in St. Patrick’s Day coupons and discounts compared to a year ago, says Jon Vincent, co-founder of Coupongirl.com, an online coupon site. Free smartphones are up for grabs online at Verizon Wireless, while computer maker Lenovo is slashing up to around $1,000 off laptops. Shoppers can take advantage of St. Patrick’s Day discounts or coupon codes at clothing retailers, like Kmart, the Children’s Place and RalphLauren.com.
But experts say there may be more hoopla than discounts. It’s still too early in the spring retail season for retailers to roll out steep discounts on that inventory, says Brian Sozzi, a retail analyst. Shoppers who want to get into a St. Patrick’s Day state of mind might not find much of a bargain either: Green shirts for instance are high in demand that day, which is why most retailers sell them at full price, he says. And good luck finding a costume at a bargain: at Party City, an adult St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun costume will set consumers back up to $120.
The marketing push to shop comes as consumers are already spending more at the stores. Retail sales have been rising for 20 straight months. To keep that momentum going, experts say stores are eager to create yet another consumer shopping holiday. “They’re trying to create any buzz they can around a specific event: It’s not an Irish holiday anymore – everybody’s celebrating,” says Sozzi.
For the Irish community, the latest retail trend is a mixed bag. “The businesses you mention we have no problem [with] because they do not try to stereotype the Irish nation as drunks, brawlers etc,” says Seamus Boyle, national president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America. But, he says, other companies step out of line and defame the Irish people. “[Their] bigoted owners are trying to make money off the backs of a hard working nationality.”
Retailers say they’re responding to growing consumer demand. Nearly 55% of Americans say they’ll celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, according to market research group BIGinsight. That’s up slightly from 52% last year and 45% in 2010. It’s also the highest in the survey’s nine-year history. And since the holiday falls on a Saturday, consumers will be celebrating throughout the weekend, which means they’ll be shopping for more party items, drinks and food, says Ellen Davis, vice president at the National Retail Federation. (T.G.I. Friday’s, Wine.com, and 1-800-FLOWERS are just some of the retailers touting St. Patrick’s related drinks or gifts.)