All I Want for Christmas…

It’s not quite the 12 days of Christmas, but consumers have a shorter holiday shopping season than usual this year.

With only 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the traditional shopping season is a week shorter than a year ago. That, according to Kennesaw State’s David Burns, creates a “standoff to see who’s going to blink first” between shoppers hunting for bargains and retailers deciding when to offer the best deals.

Shopping Mall during Christmas

“It’s a big gamble for both,” said Burns, chair of KSU’s Department of Marketing and Professional Sales. “You have the stores holding out that the customer is going to have to buy things, and customers holding out thinking, ‘Yes, that’s on sale now, but is it going to be even cheaper later on?’”

Burns offers simple advice: keep a close eye on an item’s price and availability to determine the best time to buy it.

“If it’s a high-demand item, I’d jump on it now – because you don’t want it to run out of stock. If it’s something that the stores seem to be very well-stocked on, I would hold off.”

David Burns, chair of Kennesaw State’s Department of Marketing and Professional Sales

Several retailers have taken steps to adapt to the abbreviated holiday shopping season. For example, Walmart started its holiday sales before Halloween, Zales and Kay Jewelers increased their advertising between August and October, and Target is spending an additional $50 million to have more employees working each day between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

However, Burns expects the shortened shopping season to have more of an impact for online shoppers than in-store ones. Internet shoppers have to consider delivery time, including any weather issues that could arise along an item’s shipping route.

“You can’t start buying things online on December 24th,” Burns said. “You have to plan ahead with online, and there is less time to plan ahead this year.”

Purchase on Laptop with a Credit Card

Even with fewer shopping days, the National Retail Federation predicts a holiday sales increase of 3.8 to 4.2 percent from last year. Burns agrees that the tighter shopping window has less impact now than it did in “the old days” before people’s schedules got busier and online shopping became more prevalent.

Consumers no longer make Christmas shopping an all-day experience like they used to, he pointed out. Also gone are many of the special events and elaborate displays that department stores and downtowns would have to attract buyers and browsers during the holidays.

“It’s a very utilitarian approach now, that the only reason to be in a store is to buy stuff,” Burns said. “There tends to be a significant number of people who already have their Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving, and then there are increasingly large numbers of people who don’t start shopping until a couple days before Christmas.”