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The Most Wonderful Time Of the Year … For Alexa-Enabled Trees, Pizza Blankets And Doritos Sweaters

Special deals and promotions from merchants are nothing new to the holiday season. In fact, they’re as much a part of annual year-end celebrations as twinkling lights, wrapped presents and overeating (with promises to get in shape as soon as the new year begins).

But 2020’s holiday season, as PYMNTS has already covered in great depth, is going to be a very different kind of sleigh ride. Even the most traditional of events are getting some interesting upgrades this year to keep up with the unprecedented times.

Much of that has been about digital upgrades – adding online inventory, BOPIS services, curbside delivery, in-app payments, touchless payments, same-day delivery offerings … the list goes on and on.

But as always, the out-of-the box thinkers are going the extra mile to do a little more a little differently than everyone around them.

Some are innovating on the holiday classics like the Christmas tree to add a bit more to the merry and bright sales tally. Others are rolling out what they hope will become holiday classics of a new kind – a blanket that lowers your anxiety with the soothing visage of pizza, for example.

Each innovator is, in its own unexpected way, offering its own tidings of comfort and joy to a holiday season that really needs it.

Some of our favorite offerings include:

Innovative Christmas Trees

The Christmas tree has been a part of the holiday for a long time, with the first decorated evergreen trees dating back to 16th-century Germany.

But Christmas trees didn’t become a tradition in the United States until the latter half of the 1800s, about 50 years after they had become popular in the United Kingdom and Western Europe. But though they were late to the Christmas party, Americans took to the tradition and (as is the U.S. custom) supersized it.

American Christmas trees are often floor-to-ceiling affairs, as opposed to the four- or five-feet trees favored in Europe. And one of Thomas Edison’s first uses for his newly invented electric lights came during the 1880 holiday season, where he used them to decorate his Menlo Park, New Jersey lab and Christmas tree.

And in 2020, it seems the Christmas tree is getting another round of innovation involving lights, this time care of Alexa. This year, consumers have the option to purchase a 7.5-foot artificial tree that will save them both the hassle of having to string the lights themselves and the struggle of having to turn them on.

With the Alexa-controlled Mr. Christmas Pre-Lit Christmas Smart Tree, the holiday centerpiece comes ready for easy set up and use out of the box.

Mr. Christmas is a first-of-its-kind product in that it’s Alexa-enabled, giving consumers the option to control their trees from Alexa-enabled Echo products. Some voice commands on offer include turning the tree’s lights on or off, setting an automatic shutoff schedule or changing the color of the lights.

And according to marketing materials, those color options are pretty comprehensive. There are 40 different combinations, including red, green, white or multicolor light displays. Available effects include multi-twinkle, multi-sparkle, red-sparkle and more.

And for those who like the convenience but insist on having a real tree, 2020 offers a solution for that, too. Both Walmart and Home Depot are offering delivery of Christmas trees this holiday season. “This year, Walmart is making it even easier for our customers to bring these hallowed holiday traditions into their homes – without ever having to leave,” Walmart’s TJ Stallbaumer wrote in a blog post. “This holiday season, Walmart will hang your lights, or deliver a live Christmas tree right to your doorstep.”

And Walmart is even going the extra mile by offering to hang lights on the exterior of homes. Walmart notes that consumers are required to supply the lights, clips or anchors and extension cords necessary for installation.

Stallbaumer wrote that “to get lights installed, simply add Christmas Lights Installation Service to your cart. After checkout, Handy will reach out via email to schedule an installation appointment.”

As for cost, installation is $129 for single-story homes and $199 in two-story homes. But putting the lights up is only part of the cost. Removal of the lights is $99 for a single-story home and $159 for two-story homes.

Tastefully Ugly Sweaters

While ugly Christmas sweaters have been around for decades, in recent years they’ve gone from an unfortunate part of the season – mostly inflicted on children – to become an ironic statement of holiday cheer popping up in an ever-wider range of places.

Including, as it turns out, your household junk food pantry, reimagined by Frito-Lay as a holiday merchandise shop.

Frito’s has more than just the Doritos-themed ugly sweaters we’ve all secretly been craving. There are also festive Cheetos-themed socks, potato chip-themed winter hats and snack-festooned, full-length hooded onesies for adults.

They’ve even got actress Anna Kendrick doing her best Maria Von Trapp impression to announce the collection in the most festive way imaginable:

Bringing New Meaning to the Concept of Comfort Food

The year 2020 has been an unusually good one for pizza. The world has learned that when the going gets tough, the tough get going – and everyone else curls up on the couch and seeks comfort in eating pizza.

Pizza has already given us so much in 2020: delivery robots, delivery orders by texted emoji and even little cardboard pedestals so that pizza delivery people can leave a pie on the doorstep without it being chilled by the ground.

But Pizza Hut really dug deep to figure out what else it can do to lower our collective anxiety this COVID-wracked holiday season: It’s offering a pizza-themed weighted blanket for sale.

Working in partnership with Gravity Blanket, Pizza Hut is rolling out what it calls the “Original Pan Weighted Blanket.” If it performs as described on the Gravity Blanket website, the blanket will use the “power of weight to relax your nervous system” and help consumers achieve deeper sleep.

At 72 inches in diameter, the 15-pound blanket resembles any other throw blanket, except for its resemblance to a giant pepperoni pizza.

At $150, it’s expensive for a blanket, but costs about 25 percent less than Gravity Blanket products that don’t resemble pizzas. Consumers looking to curl up with a pizza under a warm, heavy blanket can order both the blanket and a real pizza and have them both delivered to their doorstep.

Will a weighted pizza blanket, a Dorito sweater or a Christmas tree that takes verbal commands change the face of Christmas forever? Probably not.

But will they make this very strange year just a bit brighter and more fun than it otherwise might have been? Almost certainly. And after the havoc that 2020 has brought, a little extra holly and jolly would be good for all for us.

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