Retailers push holiday items earlier every year

Glowing jack-o’-lanterns



• In 1910, the Washington Post in late November handed out buttons that read “Shop Early for Xmas” because shop clerks were being worn down by the Christmas-week rush.

• In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Thanksgiving on Nov. 23 instead of Nov. 30 after being lobbied by retailers who worried the five Thursdays that November would mean a late Thanksgiving and a shortened holiday shopping season. At that time, Thanksgiving occurred on the last Thursday of every November, and some people still celebrated Thanksgiving on Nov. 30 despite Roosevelt’s wishes.

• In 2004, 18 percent of Americans surveyed said they planned to begin shopping for December holidays before most students head back to school in the fall. That percentage decreased to 13.4 percent last year.

• In 2010, Sears and Kmart jointly declared Oct. 4-8 National Layaway Week and encouraged shoppers to take advantage of their eight-week and 12-week layaway plans so shoppers could “pay over time and pick up their merchandise right in time for the holidays,” according to a news release.

— Sources: Washington Post, National Public Radio, BIGResearch for the National Retail Federation, MultiVu PR Newswire Company

Like campaign season or the first day of school, each year it seems to arrive earlier and earlier: the sight of holiday decor in retail shops.

Plastic Christmas trees, ornaments in every color and miniature Santas, Rudolphs and Frostys crop up not long after the barbecue gear and beach balls disappear from stores.

There’s a name for the phenomenon of Christmas merchandise sharing shelf space with Halloween candy and being put on display weeks before Thanksgiving decorations make their first appearance. It’s called Christmas creep, and there’s a reason it arrives so early.

Nearly two out of five people who celebrate December holidays said last year they planned to start shopping for gifts and decorations before Halloween, according to a BIGResearch survey performed for the National Retail Federation.

The survey found November consistently ranked as the most popular holiday shopping month, with 38 percent of shoppers in 2009 saying they planned to begin their shopping that month, compared to 23.1 percent for December.

Mesa Mall wants shoppers to feel in the spirit when making the bulk of their purchases, which is why holiday decorations will start going up Nov. 1 at the mall. Holiday music will begin streaming through the mall’s speakers 17 days before Thanksgiving, according to Mesa Mall Marketing Director Jammie McCloud, and Santa will make his first appearance Nov. 11. Mr. Claus will reside at the mall twice as long as the Easter Bunny usually stays in the spring.

Putting up decorations early may seem like just a way to get shoppers thinking about holiday purchases, but it’s also practical for busy retail centers.

“I had a caller once that was very upset we had our decorations out before Thanksgiving,” McCloud said. “It gets so busy in November and December that you have to be ready to go (before that.)”

McCloud said the holiday season seems to get an early start, but stores tend to respond to their customers, who are taking their time in today’s economy to window shop long before making a preholiday purchase.

“It needs to be out there for awhile because it seems the last few seasons people have been browsing hard, cross-checking prices more than when it was a ‘see it, buy it’ mentality,” she said.

Mike Allen, co-owner of Toys For the Fun of It, 519 Main St., isn’t a fan of putting up Christmas decorations any earlier than he must. Small shops can get away with that, he said, because they don’t have large inventories to push out the door before a certain holiday. But he can’t help that some parents already are asking about the hot toys for Christmas.

The questions began more than a month ago, he said, but only a couple of those parents have made purchases so far.

That fits with National Retail Federation statistics that show the number of people making holiday purchases before September decreased from 18 percent in 2004 to 13.4 percent in 2009.

“They’re mostly getting the lay of the land,” Allen said.

Not everyone is an early bird, but even diligent price-checkers want to take advantage of a good deal before risking a toy will sell out or increase in price. Less than 5 percent of shoppers said they started making holiday purchases in the second half of December 2009, down from 5.6 percent in 2004, according to the National Retail Federation.


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