Poll: Holiday retail season starts too darn early

Most are annoyed at ever-earlier store decorations, but millions have begun shopping


Poll: Holiday retailing season starts too darn early


Poll: Holiday retailing season starts too darn early


With inflatable Santas and Christmas trees already sprouting in stores, a new poll shows nearly 3 in 4 Americans are annoyed with the early arrival of the holiday season.

In a scientific poll of 1,000 American adults, 73 percent agree with the statement that “it is annoying that the holiday shopping season has gotten earlier.” Forty-eight percent strongly agree. Just 21 percent disagreed. The poll was conducted Sept. 15-18 (methodology).

While most Americans grumble about an ever-earlier holiday season, others are gung-ho-ho-ho shoppers. In our poll, 14 percent of Americans said they had already begun their holiday shopping, and a tiny fraction – 1 percent – say they have already finished. Extrapolate those numbers, and that means 34 million Americans have already begun holiday shopping, and 1 million are done.

Holiday shopping infographic

Memes, tweets, parodies
And, this being 2016, those who find Christmas in September distasteful don’t just shake their heads and move on. Some take their complaints to social media, in the form of memes, snarky Tweets and music parodies.

Jon Murray, a wedding videographer from Raleigh, North Carolina, has been noticing the past few years that holiday items have started appearing in stores before Halloween. He used that idea as inspiration to turn the line from the 2006 OneRepublic hit “It’s Too Late To Apologize” into “It’s Too Soon for Christmastime” in a music video parody. It was picked up by the “Today” show, “Inside Edition” and the Huffington Post. (Sample lyric: “Serving Christmas cups and making peppermint mochas, too / And everyone’s buying them when outside it’s 82.”)

Although he received some blowback from people who enjoy the extra time to plan for the holidays, he says the video resonated with many viewers who agree with him that it seems “crazy” to start the season earlier and earlier.

“I like having that month-and-a-half of time to get stuff together,” Murray says. “Once you go longer than that, it’s not special. It starts losing the specialness of it, because it becomes a two- or three-month-long process.”

It starts losing the specialness of it, because it becomes a two- or three-month-long process.

— Jon Murray

When to start? Around Thanksgiving, most say
When should stores start stocking holiday supplies? By a large margin, most poll respondents said around Thanksgiving is the appropriate time (52 percent). And 12 percent were even more hard core, suggesting that stores delay rolling out the tinsel and reindeer sweaters until two weeks before Christmas. Other recommendations included around Halloween (21 percent), around the beginning of October (7 percent) and around Labor Day (3 percent).

Retailers say they start early in part to meet the needs of these early bird shoppers. They say they reflect their customers’ preferences.

“If the consumers are asking for holiday products earlier in the year, you are more than likely to see retailers start having a small assortment by late summer and build up their inventory as we move into the holiday season,” says Ana Serafin Smith, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, a trade group. “It is natural that retailers are reacting to this trend.”

She points out, though, that complaints about the early onslaught of holiday decorations and gifts date back decades. She points to a blog post that has a South Carolina newspaper advertisement from mid-November 1885 inviting readers to buy “the finest assortment ever exhibited” of “beautiful holiday goods.” 

Today, most retailers seem to wait until at least October, but some start earlier. Walmart traditionally rolls out its holiday merchandise in September.

Craft chain Hobby Lobby goes even sooner: June 1. Spokesman Bob Miller explains that the retailer “has two seasons: spring and Christmas.” He adds that many of the chain’s customers are craft designers who need early access to materials to make products for the holiday season.

In addition, retailers routinely cite the hassles and costs of paying workers and maintaining inventory when the season is compressed into just a few weeks. It is easier for retailers if purchases are spread out over a longer period.

How we do holiday shopping
The survey also found:

  • Retail stores remain the most popular method of shopping, with 58 percent of respondents saying brick-and-mortar stores would be their main way to shop for the holidays. Shopping online was favored by 21 percent, while shopping on a mobile device was less popular with 11 percent.
  • Not surprisingly, millennials are the most excited about shopping via mobile. One in five people ages 18 to 35 said their mobile devices would be their primary way to shop for the holidays.
  • Younger shoppers are also more likely to welcome an earlier start to the holidays. About one-third of millennials said they are not annoyed by early holiday shopping, double the rate of baby boomers. 
  • Whites, people with higher incomes and those who say they live in suburbs are more likely to be annoyed by the early start of the holidays than their counterparts.

The holiday shopping survey was conducted by telephone interviews with 1,000 adults by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from Sept. 15-18, 2016. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

See related: Tips for sticking to a holiday budget

Published: September 28, 2016

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Updated: 10-22-2016

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