SAN FRANCISCO — The wax had barely had time to cool in the jack o’ lanterns when announcements about the first online holiday deals hit.
Forget waiting until the turkey’s in the oven, Christmas creep has begun in earnest. Amazon posted the first of its holiday deals at midnight in Seattle. Computer maker Dell announced its Black Friday deals a full 24 days before the post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza, plus a 24-hour "Black Friday flash sale" on Tuesday. Others are hard on their heels.
The push makes sense, said Brendan Witcher, principal analyst for eBusiness with Forrester Researcher.
“To retailers, Thanksgiving is Christmas,” he said.
The majority of the year’s retail sales, between 40% to 50% of them, happen in November, he said. “Once December 1st hits, we’re already in the tail.”
Consumers haven’t totally bought into this. A survey by investment management firm JLL found that more than two-thirds of shoppers think the holiday season starts after Thanksgiving, even though 45% of retailers see it as starting November 1.
Actually, the ball really gets rolling around July 1 for retailers, said Gene Alvarez, an e-commerce analyst with Gartner. That’s when they begin positioning product so it’s ready to go November 1.
Those early sales and offers help spread out demand, crucial for insuring a smooth ride to December 25th when all anyone wants to hear is the sound of wrapping paper being joyfully ripped off presents.
“Anything I can do as a retailer to get the purchaser to buy earlier alleviates that spike in demand as we get closer to the day. And those spikes are what tend to break systems,” said Alvarez.
"What seem like a deal to the consumer is really a way for them to spread the demand out to make everyone happy. Because nobody wants their gifts the day after the holiday," he said.
There will be a lot of those present under the tree. The National Retail Federation predicts that 2016 holiday sales will increase 3.7% to $630.5 billion, compared to last year's 4.1% growth. NRF defines holiday sales as those occurring in the months of November and December.
The newish normal
Holiday season sales have been starting around Nov. 1 for a few years now, say retail experts. It’s not that consumers are magically better organized. They’ve just come to realize that to get the best prices, they've got to buy early.
“They’ve become savvy about it — if I’m going to get my deals, I‘ve got to get it on it,” said Witcher.
Some of that was already visible in late August. Just as back-to-school ads were fading out, “you started to see layaway commercials about buying now so you have time to spread payments out,” said Alvarez.
The ads didn’t specifically mention holiday shopping, but that’s what they were aimed at, he said.
Retailers are trying to avoid late-in-the-season price wars. For shoppers, that means it's best to buy early.
“The retail community is trying to get out of this race to the bottom. Instead, I think we’ll see more best pricing throughout the season, once again to help spread out that demand,” he said.