Saturday, November 28, 2015

When's The Season?

If you are reading this at the earliest published opportunity, it's the day after Thanksgiving. Or maybe you're getting to it sometime over the weekend, either in print or online. Still others are taking a look at it on Monday morning once you get back to the office, pour a cup of coffee and fire up your computer. Regardless, in every one of those cases, a glance at the calendar still shows that you are firmly in the grasp of the 11th month of the year.

And yet the Christmas season is in full swing. Actually, it's not just starting: it's all but over.

True, the Rockefeller Center tree has yet to be lit. And the "official" beginning of the shopping part of the holiday is still marked as the day after Thanksgiving. That said, Black Friday has become less a start, and more of a waystation. Last year, according to Google's Holiday Shopper Intentions research, one in four of us bought a Christmas gift by Halloween, a full month before Cyber Monday.
This year the trend continues, but with a twist. With the increasing spread of smart phones and high speed access, more and more people are not waiting for those big "event" days and mammoth sales and doorbuster events. Instead, shopping has become more about "moments." Over half of holiday shoppers say they plan to shop on their smartphones in spare moments during the day, like when they are taking a walk or sitting on a train or waiting in line. The data puts it this way: shoppers now spend 7% less time each time they go online, but online purchase via those same smartphones have gone up 65% over the past tear. In fact, fully 30% of all online shopping purchases now don't happen on a laptop or desk machine, but on a mobile phone.

It would also seem that we've become more informed consumers, and less impulse purchasers. According to the same Google study, more than 52% of shoppers plan to use a smartphone for holiday shopping this year before they ever visit a store. We check prices, features, competitive products. Target says that mobile is the new front door: according to Casey Carl, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, 98% of their customers shop digitally, and three quarters of those start their experience on a mobile device. And it doesn't stop there. From Nordstorm to Sephora to Best Buy to Urban Outfitter, a whopping 82% of us say we will consult our phone while standing in the aisle. It's more than just a prediction: in September, there were 37% more searches done on mobile phones from inside a department store than they were last year. (Forget the NSA: Google knows you're standing in Macy's RIGHT NOW.)

All that access and research has changed the way that the actual buying happens as well as the shopping leading up to it. Armed with the data we get, we're putting off the buying decision, with the knowledge that we can always find the best deal. As such, the majority of purchasing seems to be taking place later in the season closer to the holiday, free shipping deadlines not withstanding.

Interestingly, even with all this all-the-time access, it seems we still need some down time to process it all. Stores used to gear up for Friday, then Saturday as the biggest shopping days of the week. That's not the case in the online world. There has been a steady shift to Sunday as the biggest day for online purchases, clocking in at 18% more than any other day. Seems if you can buy that sweater set or new handbag while curled up in your bunny slippers with a bagel and a cup of coffee, you will.

All this means that the physical manifestations of the holiday are likely to creep earlier and earlier. If retailers want to push their holiday goods on you, waiting till after the turkey is in leftover status means they have probably already missed the boat. So get ready to see trees not just in November, but lights in October and sleighs in September. However, the consequences of such early merriment cannot be ignored: it's said that for every Christmas light lit before Thanksgiving, an elf kills a baby reindeer. I fear it is already too late to prevent the slaughter from happening.


Marc Wollin of Bedford hasn't started his holiday shopping yet. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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