Christmas creep

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As we reach the end of summer, the festivals start wrapping up, holidays are over, the nights start getting a little shorter, schools open their gates for another year and “Christmas Creep” begins. It may sound like a seasonal horror film but is in fact the ever widening Christmas shopping window phenomenon merchants have created, nurtured and taken advantage of for the past few decades. The term was first used in the 1980s to describe the merchandising phenomenon whereby retailers introduce seasonal gifts, decorations and music before the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. Every year we see garlands, presents and mince pies in the shops at the start of September, maybe just a small section at first which slowly spreads to cover the whole store.  A lot of people will welcome the Christmas cheer with open arms and rosy cheeky, but many will be bored at best and outraged at worst with the Christmas merchandise sneaking onto the shelves before the leaves have even begun to change colour. Nevertheless September is here and when we go out to buy bananas we will inevitably see Santa hats and selection boxes already beckoning us.

In the UK the beginning of December is usually considered an acceptable time to begin the merry making and in the USA this is traditionally the day after Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November (in 2019 Thanksgiving will be November 28th), and the day that has now become widely known as “Black Friday”. Originally larger retailers would display Christmas goods early because they were better off displayed on the shop floor than sitting waiting in the stock room, any sales would be a bonus and it cleared more space for storage. It also made sense to start early to free up staff to be on hand to for the Christmas rush rather than moving stock around when the store was full of customers wanting gift wrapping services. More recently displaying stock early has become much more of a strategic sales technique and one that, once it took off, quickly overtook traditional Boxing Day sales.

Black Friday has been an annual occurrence in the US since the 1940s when merchants began advertising discounts to lure Americans into their shops after Thanksgiving, the last widely celebrated holiday before Christmas, was done with and the next money making festival could begin. The Black Friday event is a fairly new occurrence in the UK and much like Halloween and McDonalds, is another US import that the Brits have come to embrace. Black Friday began its migration into the UK, unsurprisingly, with the growing popularity of online shopping. In 2010 retail giant Amazon began offering Black Friday discounts which largely went unnoticed, then in 2013 American owned supermarket Asda advertised a Black Friday sale promising huge discounts on a range of goods including electricals. This was the first year Black Friday chaos ensued and the mayhem made national headlines. The following year was when it really kicked off, other stores around the UK saw that Asda was onto a good thing and wanted a slice of the sales, big retailers began offering similarly stampede-inducing discounts and 2014 even saw checkout fights requiring police presence to calm frantic sale shoppers. Frenzied shoppers have calmed down somewhat over the past few years, favouring online shopping to brawling in the isles to grab the last discounted flat screen TV.

Some reports suggest that Black Friday doesn’t actually increase the amount Christmas shoppers spend per year, it only lengthens the shopping window, but “The Retail Doctor”, Bob Phibs, warns that traders will be out of pocket if they don’t start shifting their Christmas merchandise early, and shops who aren’t on board need to get with the times. He claims that shoppers have a financial plan for what they will spend each year on gifts, decorations, food and drink etc. and they stick to it, so if you don’t have your goods available then you will risk them looking elsewhere. Thrifty Millennials budget accordingly and look for the best deal, those customers will spend the money they have put aside for seasonal purchases and they won’t be buying extra and if they can’t see your stock then you’ve missed out. So if your Christmas deal isn’t out there on show then your competitors with their Christmas stock out in time will be the ones to steal your sale. Phibs relates it to holiday music, you wouldn’t start playing Maria Carey 24/7 from September 1st but you might put Feliz Navidad on once or twice a week for a month and then start ramping it up as time goes on.

Love, it or hate it, Christmas is coming and it doesn’t look like the creep window is getting smaller any time soon. Merry Christmas!

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