It’s beginning to look like Christmas

Posted On September 23, 2007

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The kids just went back to school and Halloween is more than a month away, yet many  retailers already are peddling Christmas items. If they have the urge, consumers can go to a store, from Macy’s to Wal-Mart, to buy a blow-up Santa or an artificial tree.

Once upon a time, the day after Thanksgiving kicked off the holiday shopping season. But that has changed dramatically over the past few years, as merchants stock Christmas items earlier and earlier. How early? This year, Garden Ridge stores in the Metroplex began testing some Christmas ornaments, such as fairies, birds and birdhouses, in March instead of July.

“Our customer tends to shop several months early. She likes to plan, and that’s what we’re responding to,” said Tom Russell, creative director for Garden Ridge. “Some of the ornaments tend to be decorative beyond Christmas.”

Some other specialty and discount retailers rolled out holiday merchandise in August and September in a bid to capture consumer dollars earlier in the season. But others, such as J.C. Penney and Kohl’s, won’t stock Christmas goods until later this month or in October.

“To be competitive in the marketplace, we’re having to do them earlier,” said Brent Hundley, manager of the Calloway’s Nursery in Grapevine, which began displaying artificial trees and wreaths last month. “I think you’ll find that everyone feels kind of funny doing it very early like that.”

Last year, a survey by the National Retail Federation found that 14 percent of consumers were planning to start their Christmas shopping before September and about 40 percent before Halloween. “In recent years, not only have we found, but obviously retailers have found, that consumers have no problem purchasing holiday items this far in advance,” said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. “The notion of retailers putting out holiday merchandise this early isn’t that far of a stretch. It depends on the retailer and the knowledge of their customer base.”

Some retailers, such as Calloway’s Nursery and Macy’s, say it’s a scheduling and time-saving strategy to display Christmas products early. They also say they’ve found that if they stock the products, shoppers will buy them. “The sales were really pretty good all through the summer,” Russell of Garden Ridge said. The chain sold an average of 7,000 ornaments a week over a 17-week period earlier this year, he said. Each ornament costs from $1.49 to $29.99.

Calloway’s Nursery is pricing items at a 25 percent discount in an attempt to ring up more sales now instead of having shoppers wait for end-of-the-season discounts, Hundley said. Still, some local consumers think it’s too early.

“My vote is that Santa and pumpkins should be separate,” said Karen Cooper of Southlake, referring to a display of artificial Christmas trees only a few feet away from Halloween decorations at Calloway’s Nursery in Grapevine last week.

“I really think they forget the true meaning of it and miss Thanksgiving completely,” said Nancy Bellville of Arlington, who recently shopped at a Wal-Mart in her city. “You need to celebrate the holiday when it comes. This is rushing it.”

Some retailers apparently agree. Most J.C. Penney stores won’t display Christmas items until late October. “That’s early enough,” said Quinton Crenshaw, a company spokesman. Just wait until next year. Garden Ridge plans to start selling items for Christmas 2008 in February. “It’s almost as if we’re year-round,” Russell said.