The Christmas creep really crept in this year.
That earliest dawn of the holiday shopping season, which traditionally starts slinking in right after back-to-school, started as Southwest Florida was scrambling for hurricane supplies.
Staples like batteries and water were hard to find and shoppers were waiting in Black Friday style-lines for plywood.
I’m hard-pressed to believe anyone was really thinking about the holidays in all that chaos.
Without missing a beat, though, retailers did.
Somewhere in all that madness tree trimmings, peppermint bark and gingerbread house making kits began showing up on store shelves.
Target on the South Trail has a large display of holiday lights in the back of its store just behind the Halloween costumes. The Bed Bath and Beyond that’s just a little north on U.S. 41 has outdoor light projectors in the store’s entry way and things like chocolate Santas and the Ghirardelli holiday pack in its food section. The nearby Michael’s already has an island of holiday art kits and clear empty ornaments ready for crafting. The store is still overwhelmingly geared toward leaves and pumpkins, but there’s a long aisle of red, green, gold and white ribbons, too.
After weeks filled with utter panic and relief, evidently it’s time to start thinking about being jolly whether we’re ready for it or not.
I stopped into Macy’s at Westfield Siesta Key on Friday and was met with an announcement that “the season of giving is just around the corner.” In the department store’s home section they’ve already brought in some of those weird gifts like beer towers, wooden tic-tac-toe sets and whiskey aging barrels that aren’t really commodities outside of the holiday shopping season. Some of the Christmas china is out, and so are the red and green table runners. Macy’s hasn’t set up its post to write Santa or started hanging red orbs from the ceiling, but it’s only a matter of time.
E-commerce giant Amazon.com hitched up the sleigh on the early side, too, when it released its list of top 100 toys in September. The idea is that if shoppers start ordering gifts now, it will save some of the chaos and potential disappointment when you’re trying to hunt down that perfect toy.
The data indicates that in theory at least some of us are ready to start stockpiling presents for the holiday shopping season. Even though polls typically find that about 70-75 percent of consumers get annoyed when retailers start pushing holiday merchandise in the early fall, a recent report from the National Retail Federation shows that more than half of consumers start researching purchases in October or earlier.
About 33 percent of shoppers start buying gifts in that time frame, which is more than the 27 percent who wait until December to begin.
This of course is all speculative, and no matter how early retailers start, it’s hard to know just how festive consumers are going to feel.
That survey was done months before a potential Category 5 hurricane came hurling toward Southwest Florida and splattered the region with tree branches, power outages and an overwhelming sense of anxiety. The vibe of the year sets the tone for the holidays. We saw it last year with the election and a few years earlier with the Great Recession. We’ve seen it with war.
Not to mention that retailers themselves are struggling from their own natural disaster that took out a Macy’s, a Sears, a Kmart and HHGreggs from us. After a year of bankruptcies and closures, many retailers are banking on this holiday season to be the bright spot of 2017.
Again, it’s still too early to tell how they’ll finish out the year. We won’t know until all the cards are swiped and all the gifts are wrapped.
But the Christmas creep really crept in this year.
While stores may be putting up a few Christmas trees already, it wouldn’t surprise me if after everything we’ve been through, the holidays themselves snuck up on all of us, too.
Maggie Menderski, the Herald-Tribune’s retail and tourism reporter, can be reached at 941-361-4951 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MaggieMenderski. Read her daily blog at whatsinstore.blogs.heraldtribune.com.