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Retailers Push Christmas Early Bird Shopping to New Heights

Have you started Christmas shopping yet?

By CHRIS LEYDEN
Capital News Service

Christmas came to Target just three weeks after Labor Day this year, in what has become a new standard for retailers of pushing the winter holiday to the brink of summer.

Experts call it 'Christmas Creep,' a term coined to describe how retailers are taking their biggest season of the year, and pushing it on customers earlier and earlier. And the big news for holiday shopaholics, is that experts don't see this trend stopping anytime soon.

According to the National Retail Federation, an estimated 41.4 percent of Americans started holiday shopping before Halloween, a statistic the organization has seen consistently for the past 10 years.

Emily Knaus, store manager for the Frederick Target, said the early holiday season is largely due to requests from consumers. Holiday lights went up on shelves on Sept. 20, she said, about two weeks earlier than last year.

"We are pulling away from completely traditional lights go up in December," said Knaus, who has been with the company for seven years.

However, not everyone is in favor of the earlier holiday shopping season.

Hope Corrigan, a marketing instructor at Loyola University Maryland, said she personally likes to enjoy Halloween and Thanksgiving, which is now overshadowed by Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

From an economic standpoint, Corrigan can see the benefits to business, as they extend the shopping season from four weeks to three months with the hope of increasing revenue. This continuing trend of earlier shopping, she points out, proves it must be working for retailers.

"Why would I take the square footage," said Corrigan, "if the merchandise wasn't selling?"

Not every store is like Target, though. Nordstrom, for example, will not display any holiday-related decorations before the Friday after Thanksgiving. Elena Chin, visual manager at the Nordstrom in Montgomery Mall, said the designer fashion chain "believe(s) in celebrating one holiday at a time."

This sets Nordstrom apart from other stores, Chin said, and is a core value the company has kept since it was established in 1901.

When the store closes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the staff will work overtime until early Thanksgiving Day, decorating the store with holiday items for Black Friday. Last year the store tried to cheat and move a few items out early, Chin said, only to receive complaints from customers. The store won't make the same mistake this year, she said.

There is a terminal point to this creep, said Corrigan: Back to school is the second-largest retail season of the year.

At Target in early September, Knaus said, shoppers are still thinking of backpacks, pencils and rulers, and not shopping for light-up reindeer and inflatable snowmen.

"I don't foresee it going too much earlier," said Knaus.

At Arundel Mills, which describes itself as, "Maryland's top shopping, dining and entertainment destination," holiday décor went up in common areas in late October, the same time as last year.

"People are shopping earlier and we expect that to continue this year," said Gene Condon, vice president and general manager of the shopping mall.

Despite this earlier shopping, Condon does not believe Black Friday has been devalued. At Arundel Mills, Black Friday shopping starts at midnight, he said, and families often show up in pajamas and groups of friends will stay in hotels around the complex to go back and grab a quick snooze.

Probably the biggest competition for Black Friday is online shopping, particularly Cyber Monday. The National Retail Federation reports that more than half of its survey respondents will shop online, a record high.

Maryland Retailers Association President Patrick Donoho said the state leads the country in shopping online from smartphones. Donoho said it's hard to compete with these online retailers, especially when customers can avoid sales tax.

The fiscal cliff -- automatic federal spending cuts set to take place in January -- may also play a role in consumer confidence, said Donoho, because the impact could disproportionately hurt Maryland.

"That's the big unknown this Christmas," said Donoho. Customers fear pay cuts or losing their job.

When it comes to online shopping though, Condon said while certain products are easier to shop for online, other items, especially clothing, need to be perused in-person.

"It's hard to sample clothing items online."

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