COVID-19 will redefine the meaning of Christmas creep in 2020

Photo: Kohl’s
Aug 24, 2020

This coming holiday season is expected to see the earliest promotions ever, although many of the reasons are tied to the pandemic rather than getting a jump on the competition.

Target plans to start holiday promotions in October to support social distancing. Target said in a statement, “Historically, deal hunting and holiday shopping can mean crowded events, and this isn’t a year for crowds.”

The retailer, along with Walmart, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and several others, has announced plans to close on Thanksgiving, signaling that Black Friday events may be toned down to avoid over-crowded stores.

Some are already promoting omnichannel options, including curbside pick-up, to holiday shoppers, in part, to better manage in-store crowds.

Michelle Gass, Kohl’s, CEO, also sees shoppers looking to start their holiday shopping as early as October. She believes many are looking for “reassurance that the product that they want to buy is going to be there” after their experiences with heightened online demand in recent months. Retailers are generally planning back-half inventories conservatively given COVID-19’s uncertainty.

Amazon Prime Day, expected to be held in October, is likely to contribute to the pull-forward holiday buying trend, according to Coresight Research.

Getting consumers to make their holiday purchases earlier than usual is also expected to help reduce the impact of spikes in shipping surcharges. UPS has announced plans for significantly higher holiday peak surcharges to offset the surge in residential drop-offs, while U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in mid-August said it would be adding holiday surcharges for the first time.

Holiday promotions have been creeping back toward Halloween for years and they run the risk of giving shoppers holiday fatigue.

Retailers are being encouraged by logistics firms to at least add some variety to the promotions rather than steady across-the-store deals, according to a Reuters report. Scott Sureddin, DHL Supply Chain CEO for North America, said, “It can’t be a blitz of every single product you have online. Let’s pick and choose.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see more benefits than drawbacks in holding promotions earlier this holiday season? What suggestions would you have to better balance the peaks and valleys of holiday shopping activity and avoid holiday fatigue?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Instead of planning for and promoting a holiday rush, steady, ongoing promotions that drive consistent traffic to stores could help achieve sales targets. "
"Watch out supply-chains! Early, steady purchases could lead to extra product on the shelf come later in December."
"Retailers are concerned that as we approach the holidays, a combined flu and a resurgent COVID-19 will force the second wave of store closings."

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21 Comments on "COVID-19 will redefine the meaning of Christmas creep in 2020"

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Mark Ryski

This will be a holiday shopping season like no other. It’s understandable that retailers will naturally want to advance the timing of promotions for lots of reasons. Product availability, logistics for acquiring the goods, and extra time needed for shipping and shopping. Not only does it make sense for retailers to start sooner, but it makes sense for shoppers to start even sooner this year too. I suggest that retailers maintain a strong and steady promotional activity through the fall and holiday seasons. There will still be a build to the end of the holiday buying season, as there always is, but everything will start sooner and last longer.

Ralph Jacobson

I have always said you generally spread the same revenue over a longer time frame by starting holiday promotions earlier in the year. Today that will be an enabler for social distancing oddly enough.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Director, Main Street Markets
1 year 11 months ago

Even though we have read that big box retailers have gained triple digit online sales, the retail environment in total getting back to normal is slow going. I don’t know if there is any choice but to start the holiday shopping early. It is still a crap shoot on whether or not customers will have income to do holiday shopping or if most will be waiting for funding to pay for the basics. I think retailers will need to be flexible when planning for the holidays – you don’t know what you don’t know.

Jeff Sward
Absolutely, positively promotions need to start earlier this year. Prime Day and Target’s announcement make it official. I was in a mall (western Massachusetts) this last Saturday. I had difficulty parking. Three steps into the mall and it’s jammed. And then I quickly discover that most stores had queues of shoppers waiting outside their front doors. I got to American Eagle and was very nicely asked to wait outside. “We are at capacity. The wait shouldn’t be more than a minute or two.” And a minute later I’m in. Same scenario when I continued my walk down the mall. So all the stores in the mall are carefully monitoring their individual traffic and then all the shoppers who would normally be in one store or another are all milling in the main corridor. Jammed. Happily 99 percent of people were wearing masks. It’s August. Let’s learn the necessary lessons now about holiday foot traffic will need to be managed. Early promotions.
Ron Margulis

The answers to both of these questions is largely dependent on the second round of stimulus checks. If the checks are large enough and come out in September, we can and should expect earlier promotions. If they are delayed, so should the bulk of the promotions.

Dave Bruno

The risk of holiday fatigue is baked in, I am afraid, and is likely the least of our problems. We’ve got to ease consumer anxieties about product availability, supply chain disruption, in-store crowds, shipping delays and, of course, their personal finances. The best way to ease those anxieties is to stretch the season and give them time to browse, budget, and buy on their own timelines. I am wary of Prime Day being held in October, too. This timing will give Amazon a real legitimate chance to expand their already growing share of holiday spending.

Larry Negrich

I think “creep” really is part of the strategy this season. 2020 will obviously be big for e-commerce. The challenge is to create promotions to drive in-store traffic and something that resembles Christmas creep may be just the right strategy. Instead of planning for and promoting a holiday rush, steady, ongoing promotions that drive consistent traffic to stores could help achieve sales targets. Who knows, maybe some good news around virus treatments late in the season will help bring a late-season bump to in-store sales.

Michael Terpkosh

Earlier holiday deals can be a great thing to allow shoppers to spread out their purchases, helping to avoid large crowds in the stores. It may also help financialy stressed shoppers to lengthen the time they have to make purchases. One call out: Watch out supply-chains! Early, steady purchases could lead to extra product on the shelf come later in December.

Neil Saunders

The holiday season will almost certainly be an extended one this year. Many retailers are keen to spread trade out so they can minimize crowds in stores and also manage the surge in online demand over a longer period of time. In terms of discounts, a later Prime Day and some retailers, like Target, starting deals earlier, mean that many other retailers will get pulled into the promotional melee! Given the year has already been completely disrupted, I don’t think customers will mind an extended season too much.

Gene Detroyer

Ms. Gass rightly suggests why the Christmas season will be earlier. But if retailers believe that making it earlier will generate greater revenues overall, I believe they are sadly mistaken. At the very best, 2020 will match the numbers of the past.

While the trends of the past suggested that there was a move away from “things” to experiences, experiences will be limited. However people will look at their values more closely. Not only will many be more challenged monetarily, but many already are adopting a “Depression Era” mindset. That is, even after, if at all the economy gets better, they will be considerably more careful with their expenditures.

The days of outlandish holiday spending are over, over, over.

Ryan Mathews
In an uninformed sense, and faced with a binary choice, I suppose I’d favor holding promotions earlier than later. Here’s what we know: a certain percentage of shoppers would not be comfortable in crowded stores if the virus miraculously went away today. Here’s what we think we know: the virus is expected to have a Wave II spike in the fall, compounded by the onset on flu season. Here’s what we don’t know: the fate of the stimulus packages currently being debated in Congress, the results of the November elections and their impact on consumer mood, whether or not there will be a vaccine this year, if there is, if people will take it and/or flu shots or think it’s all some elaborate Deep State plot, what state and local crowd control regulations will look like, etc., etc. In short the unknowns far outweigh the knows. And that isn’t even beginning to address concerns around online retailers’ ability to ship on time which I expect will call people to shop earlier than later. Until we… Read more »
Mohamed Amer, PhD

Retailers are concerned that as we approach the holidays, a combined flu and a resurgent COVID-19 will force the second wave of store closings. So banking as much of the holiday sales as possible early is high on their list to mitigate future risk. If we can avoid this double whammy, retailers could have a much better Q4 than expected.

Brian Numainville

Not surprisingly, this holiday season will be very different. Many shoppers in the past wanted to move away from an earlier and earlier start to the season. For retailers, there really isn’t a choice this time around but to allow extra time for shipping and delivery given how big e-commerce will be this year. Things will also be bigger than experiences this year given the limited availability of experiences.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

I only see drawbacks to Christmas creep. What happens to sales for fall decorations, Halloween decorations, and Thanksgiving decorations? A few days ago I received an email from At Home advertising Christmas decorations. I sent an email about being surprised to see that they had Christmas decorations four months before the holiday when I was unable to find Valentine’s Day decorations at their store five weeks before the holiday. Retailers run the risk of alienating consumers. I know they are trying to balance that issue with losing sales. However they will never know how many sales were lost by alienating consumers.

Georganne Bender

Moving Holiday into October? Like that’s anything new. It’s too early for full on holiday but retailers can promote certain items and categories.

Based on the empty spaces I have seen in stores lately, shoppers who choose brick and mortar will have to shop early and often to find the things they want.

Chuck Palmer

Given public health concerns and economic and social uncertainty, I wonder if folks won’t invite Christmas in early this year. There are practical and pragmatic concerns, of course, but the emotional aspects of that special time of year might be what we want in October and we’ll want to make it last through December.

Halloween will be muted at best this year, so it may allow more mind-space to the ideas of giving and gathering, even if it is watching loved ones open presents on a screen.

Gary Sankary

I’m curious to see what shopping centers might do to to create socially distant experiences. I think they’re going to want to look for ways to keep the brick-and-mortar channel relevant and give confidence that their locations are safe. Target, for example, has done a great job in this respect and reported a nice uptick in visits last quarter on their earnings call. We know that customers engaged in omnichannel are more valuable than those who are limited to one channel. How retailers engage them is going test their creativity and marketing teams.

John Karolefski

I was in a Kmart in Cleveland few years ago, when “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” was playing over loudspeaker. It was November before Thanksgiving.
With this season’s early holiday promotion, I might hear that tune in stores in October —- before Halloween.

Craig Sundstrom

This seems like scant evidence, at best, of “creep”. Aren’t we normally complaining about promos in July?

As to whether it’s a good idea or not, I’ve mixed opinions: Things are quite gloomy, so perhaps a bit of holiday cheer is in order. My big question remains: What will become of traditional things like store Santas and Xmas parties? Hard to imagine having them, but hard to think of NOT having them either.

Casey Craig

Holiday shopping promotions seem to come earlier and earlier each year. While this may cause some consumers to burn out, there are certain benefits for both consumers and retailers to starting promotions early, especially this year.

Early promotions allow consumers to spread out holiday spending and work on a budget and timeline that’s best for them. On the retailer front, one of the biggest questions you have to ask this year is about the future of Black Friday. With the novel coronavirus and social distancing regulations limiting public gatherings, will the traditional Black Friday crowds be possible this year? By starting holiday sales early, retailers can generate consistent revenue going into the holiday season and potentially mitigate any negative financial impact in the event that Black Friday sales are lower than usual.

At the same time, retailers can use their early promotions to gauge consumer interest and engagement in online-only sales offerings and start adapting their marketing strategy to a future in which brick-and-mortar sales traffic is lower than usual around the holidays.

Kim DeCarlis

Based on the data we have from some of the largest and most respected brands in retail, predicting activity for this holiday season is going to be next to impossible. Since the beginning of the shelter in place period and the global pandemic, many retailers have seen spikes in single-day traffic that are larger than what they saw during the last Cyber Monday, in some days more than 300% of that peak. And that traffic spike is persisting. As a result, retailers need to plan for ongoing peaks and reconcile themselves to the fact that — for as long as much of the world is working from home — valleys will be non-existent, and the impact of promotions will be even more difficult to ascertain than normal.

"Instead of planning for and promoting a holiday rush, steady, ongoing promotions that drive consistent traffic to stores could help achieve sales targets. "
"Watch out supply-chains! Early, steady purchases could lead to extra product on the shelf come later in December."
"Retailers are concerned that as we approach the holidays, a combined flu and a resurgent COVID-19 will force the second wave of store closings."

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