Seeing red

SelfridgesAussies have long celebrated Christmas in July; but the point has always been to take advantage of the cooler temperatures by enjoying a roast dinner and mulled wine, not to start hanging stockings by the chimney with care.

No matter what hemisphere they are in, nobody expects to hear “Jingle Bells” at the shopping centre mere weeks into the second-half of the year.  

But Selfridges came close to making Christmas in July a stark reality when it opened a Christmas shop in its London department store last Thursday, August 2.

Decked out with pine trees and baubles centred around a rock ‘n’ roll theme, the holiday space had more than 500 products for sale. The shop will expand next month to offer 3800 products, according to Harper’s Bazaar UK.

Every year, it seems, customers, retailers and the media debate over how early is too early to start promoting Christmas. Consensus appears easier in the US, where it was once taboo to put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving (traditionally held on the fourth Thursday in November), but is now tolerated any time after Halloween (October 31).

Halloween has come to serve as the de facto start to holiday shopping in other markets too, including Australia. But there are always examples of retailers stringing up Christmas lights and signage in September. And perhaps it is only inevitable that some are beginning to creep into August.

Christmas is the biggest event on the retail calendar, with some businesses, depending on the category, doing around 60 per cent of their annual sales during the festive season.

Businesses want to ensure they maximise their revenue and are giving themselves more time to ramp up marketing rolling out Christmas promotions ahead of December 25 is certainly one way to do that.

Join in or wait?

Even if some retailers aren’t feeling the pressure themselves, they may be persuaded to join in, rather than let a competitor capture their would-be Christmas shoppers.

But many analysts say the longer lead-up to Christmas isn’t doing retailers any favours, since shoppers may be inclined to simply wrap up the items they purchase during September and October and put them under the tree, rather than brave the crowds again in November and December.

“They’re going to start planning their purchases a lot earlier, they’re going to wait for sales, they’re going to buy t-shirts and store them for Christmas…it’s just going to spread out more,” Rohan Miller, a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Sydney, said.

Miller believes shoppers are becoming fatigued by Christmas, and retailers will end up hurting themselves if they continue promoting the holiday earlier in the year.

“It’s the one bankable shopping season that retailers have. They’re just going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” he said.

For its part, Selfridges said it regularly opens its Christmas shop early to cater to international tourists, who visit the department store during the English summer and want a Christmas-themed souvenir to take home with them.

“Our summer Christmas shop launch simply addresses the growing demand for convenience Christmas shopping outside the traditional Christmas season from many of our customers,” Selfridges Christmas and home buyer Eleanor Gregory told Harper’s Bazaar UK.

Still, this strategy is probably best left to retailers in the city that served as the backdrop to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.   



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