If you think the holiday shopping season is over, you're wrong.
A growing number of retailers are promoting the Hispanic tradition of celebrating Three Kings Day every Jan. 6 as a way to extend the buying season past Christmas and connect with Hispanic customers.
"El Dia de los Reyes" celebrates the day in Christian tradition when the three wise men visited the baby Jesus.
Known as the Epiphany, the day is as important as Christmas in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain and many Latin American countries. Children put their shoes out the night before or leave grass for the wise men's camels. They wake the next day to unwrap presents.
For retailers, that means two more weeks of shopping.
"It used to be that after Christmas, everything was pretty much dead," says Ignacio Hernandez, CEO of MexGrocer.com, which began offering the traditional "Rosca de Reyes" (King's cake) five years ago. "Now it's still busy."
For the first time, actors dressed as the three wise men began wandering through Florida Mall in Orlando on Sunday and posing with children for photos on a repurposed Santa display. "Now we have three thrones," laughs general manager Brian Peters.
Wal-Mart, which began promoting the tradition in a big way last year, is expanding. This year, the three kings are visiting Wal-Marts in the Southwest, and more than 300 Wal-Marts have displays and products geared to the celebration. And Kmart is sponsoring the Three Kings parade in Miami on Jan. 13 and an appearance by Jose Feliciano at its Bronx, New York, store Thursday.
"It makes all the business sense in the world if you can extend the selling season," says Alex Lopez Negrete, CEO of Lopez Negrete Communications, the nation's second-largest Hispanic marketing company. The firm worked with Wal-Mart on its Three Kings campaign.
"It tells your customers that you know their traditions," says Lopez Negrete. "It makes you relevant to them."
Catching the growing Hispanic market is a goal for many businesses. At 44.3 million people, Hispanics are the largest minority in the United States, according to the Census. They will control an estimated $1.2 trillion in spending power by 2011, a quadruple increase since 1990, according to Mediamark Research.
Promoting Three Kings Day helps retailers compete, says Juan Pablo Quevedo, research director for Images USA, a multicultural marketing firm in Atlanta whose clients include Sears and Kmart. Until recently, the tradition had been dying out as newly arrived Hispanics became assimilated, he says.
But other retailers will follow Wal-Mart's lead, he says. "With Wal-Mart coming into the scenario, things are going to change."
Not all are so sure. Three Kings Day will remain a regional marketing event, says Esther Novak, CEO of VanguardComm, a multicultural marketing firm in New Brunswick, N.J. "It hasn't hit the center of the marketing radar screen, and I'm not sure it will."