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It’s October, about a week before Halloween. But in local stores, the occasional snowman peeks out from behind the displays of ghouls, and a Christmas tree sparkles near pumpkins.
It’s that way at both independently owned shops and national chain stores.
For both, the holiday shopping season represents a significant portion of businesses’ receipts.
Jeff Baker, owner of Baker’s Fine Gifts & Accessories, said his shop at 433 Washington St. generates nearly half its annual revenue in the final three months of the year.
Baker keeps a small display of Christmas-themed items in the store year-round because tourists sometimes buy collectible items from cities they visit. Those items also make good wedding presents, he said.
He said he plans to put up his Christmas tree just before Halloween. That task takes about three days to place nearly 3,000 ornaments.
“Customers love to come in and just look at it,” he said.
Steve Carothers, co-owner of Max’s Jewelry, at 401 Washington St., said the final three months of the year usually generate about 35 percent of his store’s annual revenue.
The giving spirit
Projected holiday sales nationally this year, up 3.9 percent from last year.
Holiday spending per shopper, down 2 percent from last year.
Percentage of shoppers who say they will start shopping before Halloween.
Percentage of shopping the average consumer will do online.
Percentage of consumers who would choose a gift card as their preferred present.
Source: National Retail Federation.
He said people sometimes purchase Christmas presents before Halloween, sometimes on layaway, so they can spread the cost of a fine watch or diamond necklace over several weeks.
Nonetheless, Carothers said, Max’s does not put up any holiday signs until right after Thanksgiving.
“We’re kind of old-fashioned,” he said.
The national chains, however, are well underway in advertising holiday gifts.
Signs of Christmas
A Christmas tree-shaped stand offers ornaments, including snowmen, Santas and Christmas trees at Kmart in FairOaks Mall.
A “Cheer begins at home” sign hangs above artificial trees at Carson’s, also in the mall, with a cornucopia of ornaments, Santa paintings, small trees with LED lights and old-fashioned Santa figurines.
A sign at the mall’s Hallmark store proclaims “The Magic Has Arrived.” Nearby, a Winnie the Pooh figure stands near a Christmas tree. A few feet farther into the store, rows of snowmen await.
“The (holiday) retail season has already begun,” said Richard Feinberg, a Purdue University professor of consumer sciences and retailing.
Feinberg said via email that while Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally kicks off the holiday shopping season, retailers are starting to offer specials earlier this year due to a calendar quirk.
After Thanksgiving, only 25 shopping days remain until Christmas — unlike last year, when shoppers had 32.
“In promotions and advertising that begin as early as September, retailers are using key words and phrases that signal holiday shopping for consumers,” Feinberg said. “Door-buster sales aren’t just for the Friday after Thanksgiving. They’re for any Friday in October now.”
Black Friday got its name because sales on that day typically pushed retailers out of the red and into the black for the year, meaning they had generated a profit for the year. The Friday after Thanksgiving usually generates among the highest sales for any single shopping day of the year.
Feinberg warned, however, that too many early sales can fatigue consumers and ultimately backfire on retailers.
“As consumers are bombarded with more promotions, it is getting more difficult to get them excited about sales,” he says. “At some point, their eyes glaze over, and it’s nearly impossible to get their attention.”
Baker said that those kinds of issues present a bigger concern for large retailers but not for small specialty stores like his.
Retailers are responding to customer demand, Baker said. When customers come in to ask for products, retailers need to have them available. Otherwise they risk losing sales.
A National Retail Federation survey supports Baker’s statement: About four in 10 Americans said they plan to start holiday shopping before Halloween. About one in 10 say they start before September.
Some Columbus shoppers said they, too, plan to start their holiday shopping early, although some wait for the traditional Black Friday kickoff.
Jason Smith of Columbus said he usually starts his holiday shopping two weeks before Thanksgiving and likes to have it wrapped up when the crowds get big.
“I usually try to beat the rush,” Smith said shortly after he had ascended the steps at the Bartholomew County Public Library.
Kristen Lee, who was walking along Washington Street with her 13-month-old son, Cohen, said she likes to start Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving.
“But I’m always scrambling at the last minute,” she said.
Jenny Widner, who was strolling along Washington Street with her daughters Margo, 2, and Rosie, 9 months, said her family typically takes a vacation to Florida over Thanksgiving and that her shopping spree starts just after that.
Feinberg said he expects sales this year to lag slightly behind last year’s, in part because of a lackluster back-to-school shopping season and mediocre consumer confidence. Although gas prices are lower than last year, he said, consumers will have slightly less to spend because Congress did not renew the Social Security tax rebate.
Columbus shoppers were split on whether they would spend more or less this year.
Lee said she plans to spend slighly less because the family decided collectively to have a lower limit, and Widner said she expects to spend about the same.
Smith, a displaced Kentucky coal miner, moved to Columbus recently to find a job. This year, he hopes to be able to spend a little more on presents for his nieces and nephews. Smith said he has been out of work for two of the past four years.
Feinberg also said retailers, even those who start offering specials earlier, should make sure they remember Black Friday, because it remains one of the biggest shopping days of the year.
“Black Friday has become a giant sporting event for both retailers and consumers,” Feinberg says. “Consumers love the competition and love getting home recounting their battle stories as they unwrap their new, large-screen TV.”
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