Welcome to the Perpetual Holiday Shopping Season

Welcome to the Perpetual Holiday Shopping Season

It’s that time of the year again.

With ghosts and goblins making their brief appearance before vanishing back into the night, the holiday calendar is filling up. While many are focused on the Big Four — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa – retailers are focused on the shopping trifecta of Black Friday, Small-Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. And their expectations are high.

The National Retail Federation projects Americans will spend nearly $900 this year to celebrate the holiday season, an increase of $42 over 2022. Of that, more than two-thirds will go to gifts, which must make retailers happy. What likely makes them even happier is that nearly half of shoppers have already started looking for those perfect gifts. And that is even better news for retailers.

The earlier consumers hit the stores, catalogs and websites looking for gifts, the more shopping they are likely to do. The NRF survey found that while many consumers start shopping early, most don’t expect to get it all wrapped up until right before Christmas Day.

If it seems as if the holiday shopping season starts earlier and lasts longer every year, it’s not your imagination.

According to NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay, “Retailers have been preparing for months to ensure their inventories will meet demand, while at the same time helping consumers maximize their budgets with shopping events and discounts running throughout the extended holiday shopping season.”

The old conventional wisdom held that that the day after Thanksgiving was the “busiest shopping day of the year” and when merchants saw their ledgers flip from red to black. But the advent of online shopping and the early holiday hype has diluted the impact of Black Friday, despite the attention it receives from the news media. Why get up at 5 a.m. to join a jostling crowd of eager consumers when you do your holiday shopping while enjoying a piece of leftover pumpkin pie?

But the importance placed on holiday shopping results by the media, as well as economists and analysts doesn’t take into account the realities of consumer behavior.

For one, according to the NRF survey, gift cards are the most popular gift, with more than half of respondents putting them at the top of their lists. But they are only counted as sales when they are redeemed and most of that activity doesn’t happen until January – after the traditional end of the holiday shopping season.

Likewise, early holiday spending before November isn’t included in the holiday season tally, so the final numbers don’t reflect the true amount of spending. That means “official” holiday spending is underreported, giving a false picture of consumer spending – the biggest big-ticket item on the nation’s gross domestic product calculation. With a growing disconnect between consumer perceptions of the state of the economy and the actual statistics, this can only serve to increase the dark clouds on the economic horizon.

It is unlikely that retailers will pull back their pre-holiday season sales and promotions and consumers will always be looking for a good deal. So perhaps the only real solution is to temper our expectations regarding holiday shopping and simply enjoy the season – no matter how early it begins.