When should holiday marketing start?

Source: target.com
Oct 28, 2021

According to an AdAge-Harris Poll, 68 percent of Americans agree holiday marketing should not begin until at least Thanksgiving.

The survey of nearly 1,000 U.S. adults was taken in mid-October and more than half of the respondents said they had already seen at least one Christmas or holiday advertisement with seven weeks to go until Christmas.

Holiday promotions have been creeping back toward Halloween for years as retailers seek to get a jump on their competition, but many consumers have also grown accustomed to seeking out deals earlier in the season.

According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2021 holiday survey, 49 percent of holiday shoppers will start browsing and buying before November, up from 42 percent in 2020 and the highest in the survey’s history. Among those shopping in October or earlier, 47 percent say they want to avoid the stress of last minute shopping and another 36 percent do not want to miss out on key holiday items.

Last year, early deals supported social distancing by lessening the crowds at stores and malls on Black Friday and other major shopping weekends in December. They also encouraged early online purchases to avoid the peak shipping fees that arrive in December.

For 2021, global supply chain bottlenecks and shipping delays have caused a new wrinkle, threatening to result in out-of-stocks of coveted toys and other gift items. NRF’s survey found nearly half (47 percent) of holiday shoppers are concerned they will have difficulty finding items this year. The top items they are worried about finding are electronics (44 percent), clothes (40 percent) and toys (28 percent).

Advertising Age noted that Pottery Barn, Sephora, Williams Sonoma and Hanna Anderson were all running holiday messages by late September. Target ran a “Deal Days” promotion from Oct. 10 to 12 while Amazon’s “Black Friday-worthy” deals ran on Oct. 4.

Most early campaigns have not yet been warning shoppers not to miss out due to the potential shortages, although Zumiez, the action-sports themed chain, has a message on its website reading, “GET IT NOW – Don’t let out-of-stock items and shipping delays screw up your plans.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can retailers incentivize early shopping while avoiding holiday marketing fatigue? Are messages to avoid stress, high delivery costs and out-of-stocks all fair game for early holiday marketing?

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12 Comments on "When should holiday marketing start?"

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Melissa Minkow

Early holiday marketing this year helps retailers and shoppers because of how taxed the supply chain is. Messaging that is transparent and clearly designed to help holiday shoppers ensure they get what they want will overcome the irritation consumers have felt in the past about premature marketing. When it’s clear that marketing efforts are intended to help the consumer, the potential for fatigue lessens significantly. This is the only approach that could save shelves from being empty when shoppers need gifts most.

Jeff Weidauer

Holiday marketing has continued its creep into October and even September. This year will see more marketing, earlier than ever. Black Friday may mark the end of the shopping season rather than the start.

Oliver Guy
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
9 months 13 days ago

Hearing the first Christmas song in a store is always a watershed moment for me. The earliest ever was last year in the first week of November – as soon as Halloween was finished with!
This year could be interesting, there are comments in the media about buying early to avoid disappointment due to shortages related to supply chain issues. As a consumer it is difficult to know whether it is “propaganda” to encourage spending or not.

Some supply chain leaders may well be genuinely worried and are trying to spread the demand – which makes sense.

Georganne Bender

Christmas creep is real. When I started in retail nothing happened to promote Christmas until after Thanksgiving but those days are long gone. These days retailers have a tendency to start pushing Christmas before Halloween is here. And this year is different, we’re starting early because we don’t know if we will get the goods consumers want, when they want them.

But there’s a difference between tastefully marketing Christmas merchandise in November and slamming consumers with daily email blasts that scream Christmas but have little value. We’re already in the holiday mood; good holiday marketing will be welcomed by most consumers.

Dick Seesel

I have already seen retailer marketing around the theme of “buy early, before we run out of merchandise.” But there is no reason why stores should avoid true holiday messaging as soon as Halloween is over — in other words, next week. It’s a sprint from November 1st to Christmas (and Hanukkah lands very early this year) so stores can’t be blamed for stepping on the gas after the challenges of the past 20 months.

Richard Hernandez

Holiday marketing began some time ago. Customers are being urged to buy now due to constrained supply chain issues. I would always like to see it start on the first of November, but that hasn’t happened in a very long time. Every retailer from Amazon to Macy’s is thinking the same thing – let’s get a head start before anyone else does. When I hear holiday music in October, that’s when I think it’s too early.

Nicola Kinsella

This year is different. There are huge supply chain issues and labor shortages that are going to impact both product availability and delivery. What’s more, like the NRF study, our recent holiday shopping survey showed a trend towards early shopping. Specifically, 28 percent of U.S. consumers responded that they plan to start their holiday shopping before November, and 52 percent before Black Friday. So marketing early, given the conditions, makes sense.

That said, fear based marketing – especially around the holidays – kills the mood. Luckily, I haven’t seen too much of it so far. Much more inviting to see some top names delivery messages such as:

  • Cozy, comfy, heartwarming, welcoming;
  • Get a head start/early deals/early access;
  • Gearing up to celebrate;
  • Holiday prep time is here;
  • Festive experiences;
  • Give gifts for new traditions outside.

They’re way more inspiring!

Kenneth Leung

Early. I think the supply chain issues are well known enough that people are going to shop earlier to avoid disappointment. Also, some people are still not comfortable with in-store shopping or traveling, which means more gifts will be shipped to recipients rather than delivered in visits.

Craig Sundstrom

The title question is easy to answer: December 26! 🙂 (Well, that’s when it does start … or seems like it anyway).

As far as the messaging, I think people appreciate, and will respond to, honesty: so (subtle) reminders to shop or ship early — within reason — may prove beneficial.

OTOH, no one likes being treated like a child (unless it’s getting lots of presents, of course). And the “out-of-stock” dilemma is much more problematical: self-fulfilling prophesy might well be the result if expectation of shortages aggressively moves up buying; and if the merchandise ultimately gets delivered before the holiday(s) but after people have given up on it, it will have been a self-defeating effort.

Rich Kizer

It already has, hasn’t it?

James Tenser

Holiday hype has already begun, of course. The first harbingers were the warnings from TV news that shoppers will need to order earlier than ever to obtain wanted gifts that have been constrained due to #shipageddon. That message hits both the OOS and stress reduction notes.

Shikha Jain

As consumers are becoming more aware of the supply chain challenges in mainstream news outlets, it is absolutely fair game to message how early commitment can lead to lower delivery costs and minimizes risk that an item will not be available.

The key will be helping the consumer understand that they should not wait for a “better deal” that is just around the corner. If a retailer has a promotion in early November, communicate that this is equal to or better than the Black Friday offers. Lay out in the website that there are strict delivery deadlines and pre-Christmas delivery will cost more and more the longer consumers wait.

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