Commentary

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

That’s the title of one of the most recognizable holiday songs ever written. When Meredith Wilson wrote it back in 1951 it was originally called “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas,” but whichever title you prefer, it’s more appropriate this moment in time than it was 60 years ago. Because it is. Looking like Christmas. Earlier and earlier and earlier.

Over the past five years retailers have started to market for the holidays earlier and earlier. More than 90 days ago, you could purchase Christmas and Chanukah gift-wrap and greetings cards at major retailers. Official “Christmas sales” are becoming a thing of the past. Oh, don’t worry. There will still be sales, but they won’t be as big or deep as they were back in, say, 2006. Retailers have smartened up regarding inventory control, so they’re actually planning on not having a lot of surplus stock that they’d have to put on “sale” a week before Christmas.

Nah -- now there are always sales, and consumers are onto that. Given an inability to create meaningful levels of retail brand differentiation and a uniformity of merchandise range on offer, what else can retailers do? They’re afraid that if they don’t move merchandise now -- before some other store -- they’ll be out a sale.

Two-thirds of consumers are already holiday shopping

Consumers are onto all this, so they’ve started buying earlier and earlier for the holidays. Buying patterns have changed dramatically since Wilson wrote his song. In fact, in a recent study we conducted, 66% of the 16,000 consumers surveyed indicated they had already begun their holiday shopping, looking for deals and sales before “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday.” Sixty percent of consumers are talking to each other and comparing prices before they check out the brand.

They think “category” first, “value” secondarily, and unless you happen to be Apple or Tiffany or Chanel, “brand” comes in a distant third. With all-sales-all-the-time, it’s getting harder and harder to tell when one holiday begins and another ends, but consumers don’t care, as they end up as the beneficiaries of that marketing approach.

So reports that “holiday spend will only be up by X%” may be misleading, since consumers are no longer doing their holiday shopping within the traditional 30-day “holiday period” between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but are spreading spend over a shopping interval more than four times that, and may be spending far more than has been reported thus far.

Charles Dickens had Ebenezer Scrooge promise “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Retailers are apparently doing that, too.

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