It’s only a matter of time before holiday deals start lapping themselves.

Last year, Target kicked off the Christmas shopping season with a holiday ad on October 7th, 79 days before Christmas and 3 weeks before Halloween. This year, Kmart upped the ante with a holiday ad on September 10th, 105 days before Christmas and right in the midst of back-to-school.

Increasingly retailers are embracing Christmas Creep. This year’s pressure intensified in the US with six fewer selling days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Black Friday started a week early for Walmart and many retailers started deals in the midst of Thanksgiving itself.

Last year’s cartoon and post on Christmas Creep sparked an interesting debate in the comments. Bill Carlson noted that 40% of consumers started their holiday shopping in September/October, so it’s only logical that retailers start holiday communication early. Many others focused on the risk of consumer backlash.

Russell noted that “This does create an opportunity for someone creative. Deliberately have a campaign that pokes fun at this. Drive home the message of ‘Strawberries in Summer, not Winter”. Commit to keeping store promotions genuinely seasonal. Advertising that you are not doing Christmas in October gets you attention and differentiation.”

I was struck that several retailers took exactly this opportunity to take a stand this year. Regional electronics chain P.C. Richard & Son took out full-page “Save Thanksgiving” ads. Nordstrom kept stores closed and announced, “We won’t be decking our halls” until Black Friday because “we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time.”

It will be interesting to see how the Christmas Creep bandwagon continues in coming years, as retailers navigate the holiday shopping pressure and balance how best to listen to their consumers. Some consumers genuinely want deals earlier in the year. Others see it as an invasion. I imagine the best approach will be different for every retailer. What might work for Kmart won’t necessarily work for Neiman Marcus.

I’d love to hear your insights on how marketers should respond to Christmas Creep.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

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  1. DSprogis says:

    As long as shoppers show up, retailers will oblige. I view Christmas creep as a societal issue not a retail issue. As a society, we live from weekend to weekend and from holiday to holiday. We are continuously seeking new satisfaction rather than finding satisfaction in our current condition.

    An alternative is to be grateful.

  2. D Kemp says:

    Agree with D Sprogis on the societal part. It would be nice if we could spend time embracing today as opposed to being so focused on tomorrow.

    There is also a very real business challenge with moving the holiday season up. As more retailers move to the extended holiday sales season, there will inevitably be increased pressure on profitability. The more items sold on deal, the less profit you make, basic business principle, right.

    I like the “stand” that Nordstrom is taking as it acknowledges the growing pressures consumers are feeling AND it allows them the opportunity to at least temporarily avoid the deep discounting associated with Black Friday until necessary.

  3. Bill Carlson says:

    Since I was quoted regarding data I had seen last year about when folks start shopping, I thought I would share some updated insights from research I ran for a client this year.

    Sample size is small for this so please take the specific numbers here as “indicators” as opposed to “hard data”, but results seem sufficient to continue supporting the claim that some consumers are “typically starting” their holiday shopping well before the traditional (but now apparently outdated?) Black Friday kickoff.

    Over half indicated they start shopping before November — *not* “before Thanksgiving” but before even getting to the month. In fact, 19% reported typically starting *before September*!

    Of course, “starting” is a loose term — all it takes is one gift but regardless, the point is that a meaningful share of people start anticipating the holidays months beforehand.

    As of roughly Nov. 1, only 36% claimed to have not started at all. Interestingly, 6% claimed already being “done” and 10% claimed to be more than half done.

    So as much as I personally hate seeing Christmas commercials and decorations in the stores before Halloween(!), the data seems to make a compelling case for promoting holidays gifts as early as September…

  4. Linette says:

    Things have gotten completely out of hand when it comes to holiday shopping. Just because savvy consumers snap-up purchases throughout the year with others in mind, that doesn’t justify the frenzy that we’re in. It is one thing to stimulate sales, but quite another to insult someone’s intelligence.

    Under the guise of a “holiday sale”, retailers:
    1) Are killing the thrill of what was intended to be *the* great, year-end sale. (Are the best deals now being offered on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or during a trumped up, pre-holiday sale on some random Tuesday in June?)

    2) Adding to consumer stresses by drawing them away from family and friends. (The constant nagging for grand kids seems quite pleasant compared to the unrestrained, annual violence experienced in Walmart and other stores last week.)

    3) And completely disrespecting their employees, customers and the holidays. (Really – pizza for Thanksgiving?!? Are you selling enough pies to justify the payroll, utility costs, delivery gas, and negative goodwill?)

    Having expressed my personal annoyance to Target last year for their ridiculously early bombardment of holiday ads, I find it all to be a complete turn-off. Needless to say, I did not partake in any Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday or Small Business Saturday shopping this year; nor will I today for Cyber Monday. Recent economic crisis aside, this whole thing is the last straw for sticking to what the holidays are really about. Besides, if I’d been out shopping last Thursday, I would have completely missed that sweet exchange been my brother and his daughter.

  5. Teri Watson says:

    I agree with the one holiday at a time idea. Christmas pushes began so early this year, I decided it must just be Hallothanksmas, the all-inclusive third quarter shopping frenzy. It’s just about reached the obscene.

  6. Sean says:

    Could the ultimate answer be something as simple as offering product better tailored to the consumer’s values and needs, rather than scheduling sales and deals? Something akin to Esurance’s “here a cheep, there a cheep” ad campaign?

    I’m a millennial and I hate having to spend long hours fighting through crowded stores with dodgy selection. I am in fact willing to pay premium to AVOID that sort of thing. I have NEVER done (or even understood) Black Friday… but I’ve ~also~ never done Cyber Monday, or really any sale apart from the occasional pleasant-surprise targeted ad for something I’ve legitimately been browsing for (e.g. buy-2-get-1 DVDs at B&N). I will consistently go to whichever outlet will get me the product I want most quickly and conveniently when I want it. If local small retail doesn’t have it, I go to local big box, if big box doesn’t have it, I go to Amazon, if Amazon doesn’t have it, I actually start digging. Scheduling a specific day/week/month when stores will be guaranteed-crowded, service will be guaranteed-slow, and selection will be guaranteed-sparse is a great way to ensure a store does NOT get my business.

  7. Deepak G says:

    Well, it is so easy to prick those marketers who are juicing the holiday season all over the year, but at the same time you don’t want to miss the bus!

    One of the ways can be to shun the melodrama about the discount timing, just spread the word: any shopper who walks in and says ‘I am happy shopper’ gets complimented as ‘happy shopping’ and a xx% discount. At floor, we should make the customers celebrate shopping not the holidays, which they will certainly do with friends and family. And yes, do close the store on holiday, they have got presents to share too!

  8. Sean says:

    Deepak, that… could actually be brilliant. One of the lessons some of my grad school professors (Entertainment Technology; not directly marketing, but I’m sure some graduates have ended up in the field) were fond of pushing involved the power that repeating things to yourself can have on your outlook. Any customers who are rewarded for declaring themselves to be happy will very probably end up being a little happier every time, whether they realize it consciously or not. And if their subconscious experience is consistently time-with-brand = happy-time, they are going to be more likely to view it favorably and recommend it to others…

  9. chris says:

    UK supermarket Morrisons took the C word to, what i feel was, a silly level this year: Morrisons 10 week count down to Christmas. 10 weeks? 10 weeks! I dont countdown any event for that long.

    The deal involved doing £x of shopping every week and get a £40 christmas shop for free. Similar to the ’10th coffee free’ deal with one difference: The coffee deal works partly because theres no time limit. The 10 weeks of shopping was so specific & difficult to pull off. It was made to be complex, it was made to not work.

    Why not simply surprise loyal customers at Christmas by randomly giving their christmas shop for free? No costly christmas adverts before halloween, no pressure or stress or silly deals. Simply a super gift for customers who they know shop with them all the time. It would have been a huge talking point, very tweetable right? But no, they went with a 10 week advert driven, difficult to get deal. Boo.

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