Christmas mingling with Halloween on store shelves

(RNN) - It's beginning to look at lot like Christmas in retail stores across the country.

Long before the ghosts and goblins of Halloween show up on your doorstep, jack-o-lanterns in hand, many stores are already decking the halls - jamming every available square inch with Christmas cheer unseasonably early.

Christmas trees at Lowe's, light up reindeer at Target, wrapping paper at Walmart … nothing is spared and nothing is sacred with two major holidays still to go before Christmas.

"I was in Kohl's on Oct. 8. They had all their Christmas decorations up. I was flabbergasted. I watched people and almost everyone just ignored it. People are so used to it," said Christine Freitchen, editor-in-chief of, a product review website. "I think people have become cynical about it to the extent they're apathetic."

Toys "R" Us released their Holiday Hot Toy List in September, more than three months ahead of Santa's big night, and launched its holiday layaway program on Oct 15. Not to be outdone, Walmart brought back its layaway program on Oct. 17 for the holiday season.

Time warp

Depending on who you ask, the pre-season hype is all to the delight … or chagrin … of the shopper.

"I walked into Walmart two weeks ago and there was one aisle of Halloween stuff and three aisles of Christmas stuff. My child was very confused on what holiday was actually next," said Emily Spivey Sterling, via Facebook.

Others don't mind the mingling of the seasons.

"I think them putting out Christmas items now could be seen as a good thing. They are allowing customers extra time to space out purchases to decorate for Christmas," said Brittany Faire of Charleston, MO. "Not everyone has the money to go out and buy everything all at once, which I think is pretty smart."

According to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, 40 percent of Americans will begin their Christmas shopping in November. Almost as many, nearly 38 percent, will start in October, September or even earlier.

But does it really benefit a store to stock Christmas merchandise and offer sales weeks, even months before?

"It may be a question of having a gap. They all have that seasonal area in the store," Freitchen said. "Home Depot had Christmas stuff in their store on Labor Day. By Labor Day, the lawn and garden stuff is gone, the lawn mowers are retired. There isn't much they sell that's fall related. Maybe some leaf blowers or mums, but there's not a lot of merchandise to fill that seasonal space."

Which means, as soon as the Christmas trees, wreaths and stockings are cleared out from store shelves, get ready for the avalanche of Valentine's cards, candy and stuffed keepsakes to take their place.

"It's debatable when too early is, but like a lot of things, its creeping back earlier and earlier. Everyone wants to be earlier than later. It's [about] being top of mind," said Loren McDonald with Silverpop, which handles email marketing campaigns for companies.

"The real key is what we refer to as 'right time, right message.' Obviously what you really want to focus on is that you're there as close to the time as possible when somebody's ready to make that purchase."

Early bid for dollars

The National Retail Federation estimates holiday shoppers will spend an average of $704.18 on gifts and seasonal merchandise.

And in an anticipated average retail season with only 2.8 percent forecast growth, timing is everything.

"[Retailers] want to get a bigger share of the pie early. If they're not out there early when shoppers are out there looking, they're not going to get their share of the pie," said George Cook, executive professor of business administration at the University of Rochester. "Once a store starts, all the other stores in that store's playground will do the same thing."

Regardless of whether extending the shopping season will translate into a holly, jolly Christmas for retailers, the premature shopping season could be robbing Paul to pay Peter.

"Consumers are expecting to see good deals out there early and there will be. Promotions ahead of the official holiday season and really before Black Friday are OK because the consumer expects them. On the other hand, we're stealing sales early from the promotions that would take place in December," Cook said.

"They are pulling some sales forward and probably robbing the normal shopping season of sales that would be obtained at that time."

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