Seasonal Creep Keeps Getting Creepier

I must confess I did not step inside many retail stores this summer except for my weekly trips to the grocery store and the odd items I needed to pick up from different retailers.  Instead, I spent the summer enjoying the weather and spending time with my kids in various summer spots across Alberta and British Columbia as well as a jaunt down into Idaho.

However, in late August I made a trip to Winners and was surprised to see two racks of Halloween costumes that were already being picked over. Halloween? It hadn’t occurred to me that Halloween costumes were already being sought out and sold to customers. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps I should ask my kids if they wanted to come see these costumes before they sold out in August!

Every year retailers have been expanding the length of the seasonal creep by marketing holiday products earlier and earlier to increase profits.  This way, retailers can take advantage of the commercialized holiday and resultant heavier shopping.

Of course, we all like to complain about how early merchandise is showing up for sale by not allowing us to have a break in between holidays. Or rather, we are forced to start thinking about the next holiday or season before the current one is even over.

Christmas trees appeared at Costco in August and the Club retailers has probably been one of the biggest drivers of seasonal creep with their “treasure hunt” approach which encourages members to get it while supplies last.

Recently the back-to-school faded right into Halloween displays which will melt right into Christmas displays.

But as much as we like to complain, are shoppers really opposed to it?

Last year, Target ran holiday ads in mid-October and had Festive Christmas merchandise right alongside Halloween displays.  The perception Target had among moms rose after its Christmas holiday ad aired in October, which leads many to believe that seasonal creep is not as widely disliked as thought.

Nearly 4 in 10 parents with children under 18 begin holiday shopping before November according to couponing website

According to Ali Lipson, Mintel retail and apparel analyst, retailers are competing for higher sales dollars by trying to be the first to provide merchandise to customers.  She says, “They want to get ahead of competition by starting to sell items in advance of when others might typically do so.”  Also, “… in terms of holiday shopping we’ve seen the deals and promotions start earlier and earlier each year, again aiming to be top of mind among consumers.”

Since Wal-Mart and Lowe’s pioneered seasonal creep by offering Christmas merchandise for sale in October, every holiday and season has experienced more of the creep.  Back-to-school creep occurred this summer when retailers started offering back-to-school products the week after school got out instead of the traditional late July and early August.

In the US, Black Friday kicks off the popular holiday selling season ending with Christmas.  The holiday has seen its fair share of holiday creep as opening times have been moving earlier and earlier.

In the past, stores have traditionally been closed on Thanksgiving and open the next day on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.  But, stores have started opening up earlier to take bigger slices of the retail pie for this important shopping day.

Brad Wilson, CEO of reflected on the changes in the industry when he said “As recently as 2009, we didn’t even launch our Black Friday site until early November.  In 2013, we’d miss half the season if we did that.”

In 2011, several retailers including Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s and Best Buy opened at midnight for the first time.  Last year, Wal-Mart opened up at 9:00pm on Thanksgiving Day and door buster deals started at 10:00pm.  Sears also opened up at 8:00pm and Target opened up at 9:00pm.  Clearly, the trend to now open up on Thanksgiving Day instead of waiting until the day after for Black Friday deals is clearly on its way.

Gap spokeswoman Liz Nunan says the company has been testing Thanksgiving hours for the last three years.  The company had 1,100 stores open on Thanksgiving Day last year and the year before and Ms. Nunan says that the customer response is in favor of continuing.

Ellen Davis, VP of the National Retail Federation says, “About one quarter of all Black Friday shoppers were at the stores at or before midnight last year compared with just 3% in 2009.”

She also says “The customers are driving the bus.”  Furthermore, “If customers weren’t shopping on Thanksgiving night retailers wouldn’t be open…some who didn’t open at midnight [last year] may feel they lost out on market share.”

Many retailers have been jumping on board to seasonal creep and some that haven’t may be left behind in the dust or may decide to jump in.

Maybe an extreme example from the US is the Kmart Christmas ads that are already appearing on TV:

To watch this video please click here.

It is clear that seasonal creep is here to stay and that it will continue to become a longer and longer season for each holiday or occasion involved. What does that mean for shoppers? We better get to the stores early if we want to be the first to take advantage of the deals before the best deals are gone!


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