Detroit Free Press Georgea Kovanis column [Detroit Free Press]
(Detroit Free Press (MI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dec. 18--Remember when you had to wait until Dec. 26 to get deals on gift wrap and holiday decor items?
It's a week before Christmas and more stores than ever have started what used to be called after-Christmas sales.
Crate & Barrel announced today it is offering half off on holiday ornaments, wrap, decor and other items -- just in time for the masses of shoppers who are predicted to hit stores this weekend. Historically, the last weekend before Christmas is one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year.
Also today, English Gardens sent an e-mail to shoppers saying it is offering 60% off on artificial Christmas trees, and faux garland and wreaths.
Meanwhile, J.C. Penney has been selling its holiday wares for 60% off -- more if you have a coupon -- for at least the last two weekends.
And on and on and on as stores have turned the holiday season into a nonstop opportunity to hit a sale.
"After Christmas is before Christmas," said Mike Bernacchi, a University of Detroit Mercy marketing professor, who added the trend is fueled by retailers' worry they will be stuck with a bunch of leftovers after Christmas.
These discounts on seasonal items in the middle of the season represent a sea change in shopping and retail, said Jeff Green, a Phoenix-based retail analyst. "This is going to be a change for good."
If you're planning to wait until the day after Christmas to stock up on seasonal merchandise such as decorations and gift wrap, you might be disappointed. There will be some, but not as much as stores used to have.
"On Dec. 26, there will be a lot of shopping going on... you do it because it's fun," said Green. "But there may not be a lot of merchandise to buy. It will be more of a treasure hunt."
Up until a few years ago, avid shopper Lisa Benedict, 47, of Oakland Township used to look forward to day-after Christmas sales. But since just about everything -- including seasonal items -- is on sale before Christmas, she doesn't go out. "I got everything before with great sales and coupons," she said. "I was in Jo-Ann Fabrics last week. They've already got 60% off."
While it's true, some stores began offering earlier-than-usual discounts on seasonal items a couple years ago, this year's discounts are deeper and more widespread -- even though stores stock smaller inventories than they did before the Great Recession, from December 2007 to June 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These sales come at a time when stores have less merchandise to sell in every category, not just seasonal items.
These sales also come at a time when stores started holiday promotions and Black Friday sales as early as Nov. 1.
Stores opened earlier than ever on Thanksgiving and they were disappointed that even though more people shopped Thanksgiving weekend than last year, they spent less.
This year's holiday season spending is expected to be up only 3.9% from last year, according to the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.
Even though retailers "have managed their inventory exceptionally well, they understand that this is not going to be a good holiday season," said Bernacchi.
"The worst word in the world for retailers is, 'fear.' Fear of the weather. Fear of the shelves not being cleared," he said. "There's more fear this Christmastime, in spite of the fact that the economy is doing very well. But guess what? That has not encouraged consumers because there is so much uncertainty."
Putting decorations on sale early may give shoppers an excuse to get into stores -- and find more than half off ornaments to buy before Christmas, said Britt Beemer, founder of America's Research Group, a firm that tracks consumer behavior.
Also, putting seasonal items on sale during the midst of the season gives stores a jump on clearing valuable shelf space for new merchandise, including Valentine's Day presents and resort wear. "That space is more valuable trying to sell Valentine's early to people than Christmas late to people," said Ken Nisch, chairman of JGA, a branding and retail design firm in Southfield.
At a time when sales seem lackluster, it makes sense for retailers to have their hearts set on Valentine's Day.
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