‘Holiday creep’ means seasonal goods hit stores earlier each year

It used to be just a “Christmas creep”, but now it’s a general “holiday creep” – the practice of stores offering seasonal merchandise more and more before the actual holiday.

It’s not something that Cindy Miller of Connellsville necessarily notices when she’s out shopping, but she falls prey to it nonetheless.

“When I see something I like, I understand,” she said during a recent stop at Barbara Ann’s Country Home Furnishings in the Westmoreland Mall. “If you don’t get it now, it may not be there later.”

That’s the conundrum for buyers and retailers – if everyone’s doing it, you better be doing it too.

“I definitely feel the need to do this earlier and earlier,” said Nicole Vigilante, owner of Trovo Co., a New Kensington store selling vintage and handmade home decor. “People coming in know they gotta get this stuff before it’s all gone.”

The Christmas creep has been around for a long time. Retailers began pushing the holiday season forward as early as the 1950s, according to Dictionary.com, with the phrase itself appearing in a 1986 Los Angeles Times article.

The phenomenon was exacerbated in 2008, as retailers sought to maintain their sources of revenue during the economic recession. The ensuing online shopping boom has brick-and-mortar stores scrambling even harder to capture consumer money.

So Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and Easter creepiness were thrown into the mix.

“With Amazon Prime Days and the competitive events it has spawned, the cycle is starting sooner than ever,” said John Dick, founder and CEO of CivicScience Inc., a Pittsburgh-based market research firm. “Consumers are looking to buy earlier to avoid the risk of product availability later in the season, while sellers are looking to capture consumer money before anyone else.”

Supply and demand

Supply chain issues during the pandemic have added another layer of urgency to holiday preparation, according to a research report by CivicScience.

“With ‘supply chain issues’ being the story of the holiday season last year, we saw consumers start their holiday shopping earlier than ever,” according to a syndicated Consumer Holiday Tracker research report. that the company released in August. “We are already seeing indications of people shopping for the holidays even earlier this year.

“Already more than 2 in 5 American adults are thinking about and preparing for the holidays right now, and nearly a third of holiday shoppers (29%) have already started shopping for this year.”

The report says the pace puts buyers ahead of where they were at the start of October 2019 and 2020 and almost where they were at the end of last September.

Even though “every holiday is holiday year-round” at Ligonier’s Holiday Home Store, owner Pat Baker said she notices shoppers looking for new holiday merchandise earlier each year. Her new stock of Halloween items was on display on July 1.

“Halloween is coming even earlier than before. People are watching in June,” she said.

Many of these people are actually doing their Christmas shopping, she said, because they are shopping for people who collect decorations not just for Halloween, but for various holidays.

According to owner Amy McKnight, there’s also been a big spike in Christmas shopping in the summer at Barbara Ann, and weddings are responsible for that. Much like the Holiday Home Store, Barbara Ann’s sells seasonal and holiday products throughout the year.

“People are buying bridal shower gifts,” McKnight said. “They want to buy the bride a decoration for Christmas, or maybe for every holiday.”

Shoppers give a variety of reasons for accepting the holiday creep, said Kristina Morrison, sales associate at RSVP Gifts and More in Hempfield.

Some say they need to spread out their vacation spending and not be overwhelmed by January’s credit card bill, Morrison said. Others are simply taking advantage of the nonstop holiday season from fall through winter and want to make it last as long as possible.

“They want to be prepared,” she said. “Me, I’m still enjoying my summer.”

Independent retailers must also follow the lead of big-box stores if they are to survive, Morrison said. If big box stores offer Christmas products in October, smaller stores should follow suit.

Advance planning

Retailers also face a different kind of pressure behind the scenes, Baker said, with suppliers rolling out next year’s merchandise well in advance.

“Maybe it’s still because of covid and the supply chain (problems), but we had to buy everything earlier,” she said.

In the past, she has visited gift shows in Atlanta in January to shop for merchandise for the following fall.

“We were supposed to have our spring orders in September,” she said. “You need to get it while you can, because you might not be able to get it later.”

Overall, the holiday creep is a boon for shoppers, Dick said.

“These are almost all “benefits” for the consumer. They have the opportunity to spread the financial impact of holiday shopping and avoid the last-minute rush and fear of shipping delays,” he said. “The only possible downside is the risk of a product being available at a lower cost later in the season.”

It could be more of a mixed bag for sellers, Dick said, because big or small, online or in person, they’re all competing for the same dollars.

“Holiday retail is a zero-sum game,” he said. “One of the big benefits for retailers is that it allows them to win over the first buyer before moving on to a competitor, while better managing inventory throughout the season.

“A big downside is that it doesn’t allow them to capitalize on last-minute product trends and fads as the holidays approach.”

Somewhere shoppers may draw a line on the holiday creep, but it’s unclear where that line will lie yet.

“Is there a limit to consumer tolerance for holiday creep? Most likely. Do we know where that boundary is right now? No, said Dick. “I would expect this trend to move earlier and earlier until retailers see diminishing returns.”

In the meantime, retailers will give people what they want, whether they buy into it themselves or not.

“I saw the Valentine’s Day candy at one of the big box stores on Thanksgiving,” Baker said. “It’s kind of ridiculous.”

“Personally, I like to be more in the moment,” Vigilante said.

And not all shoppers are swayed by the holiday creep, McKnight said. At Christmas, these people tend to fall into one of two categories.

“They either love the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping or they’re procrastinators,” she said.

Shirley McMarlin is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Shirley by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .