The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

Christmas creep: Holiday arrives before Halloween at some SoCal stores (poll)

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Halloween falls on Thursday, trick-or-treaters are getting their costumes ready and jack-o'-lanterns are out on the porch— but it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at some local stores. 

Ready or not, the Christmas retail season has already arrived at several Southern California retailers. (Do you like it? Take our poll, below.)

South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa put up its 96-foot Christmas tree at a park outside of the mall earlier this month. Step into stores like Home Depot, Costco and Sears and you’ll already see displays full of shiny ornaments for sale. 

Retired accountant Michele Olgren, who was shopping at the Sears in Costa Mesa, said it was a little too early to see Christmas at Sears. "I'm not interested in looking at trees at this point," she said.      

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“The shopping cycles have moved further and further closer right after Labor Day. It seems like every year people start planning earlier,” said Lou Jones, store director for Sears at South Coast Plaza. “They don’t like to wait until the last minute.”

This year, four out of 10 shoppers will start their holiday shopping before Halloween, according to the National Retail Federation. One of the reasons: Shoppers are spreading out their holiday spending over a longer period of time, the federation said.

It will become even more important for retailers to reach consumers this year. Consumers are under a lot of pressure, from unemployment to saving up for college tuition for their children and changes in health care coverage, said Britt Beemer, CEO of America’s Research Group. 

“All those things combined I think reflect a sentiment where consumers are saying, ‘Whoa, I can’t spend more money because I don’t have any more money and if I do have money, I got to save it for this or that,'” Beemer said. 

Beemer said this year, 44 percent of families couldn’t even afford to finish their back-to-school shopping, and some of those items will end up making their way under the Christmas tree. He said retailers should offer large discounts to get consumers into their stores; otherwise, retailers risk losing sales.

The National Retail Federation estimates holiday sales in November and December will increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion. The federation considers that “marginal sales gains.”

“Our forecast is a realistic look at where we are right now in this economy: balancing continued uncertainty in Washington and an economy that has been teetering on incremental growth for years,” said Matthew Shay, the federation’s CEO in a statement.

Over the years, retailers have moved up their holiday promotions even earlier, said Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director with research firm Prosper Insights & Analytics. For example, Goodfellow said specialty stores like Banana Republic and Ann Taylor are already previewing clothes you can wear to holiday parties.

"Early deals and early previews get shoppers excited about the season and excited about shopping those stores. When they get excited about something they'll probably share it, whether it's on Facebook and Twitter and helps retailers spread the word," Goodfellow said.

Black Friday

Black Friday, seen as the traditional start to the holiday shopping season, used to be held the day after Thanksgiving. But in recent years, more retailers are starting the big sales on turkey day. This year, Macy’s, Kohl's and JCPenney said it will open stores on Thanksgiving for the first time.

The main advantage for retailers to open on Thanksgiving is not to miss out on potential sales, Beemer said. 

"That's a lot of people to miss out on if you're not open," Beemer said.

Other stores are trying to get shoppers into the holiday spirit earlier by selling Christmas items in the fall, and it's working with some shoppers.

"I liked seeing the trees sparkling," said JimmieLouise Coury, who was shopping at the Sears in Costa Mesa. "That's what drew me into the [section] was all the trees, and the next thing was the music that drew me here." 

Coury, who lives in Riverside, admired the glittering trees while listening to Christmas music playing in the background. She plans to spend $2,000 on holiday gifts and said she’s already about 13 percent done.



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