Is it too soon?

by Paul Holmes ([email protected]) 233 views 

At the risk of sounding like an old guy, which I am, it seems to me that the Christmas shopping season begins earlier each year.

If the impossible-to-ignore loads of holiday merchandise already crowding the shelves of the big-box stores aren’t convincing enough, how about some statistics to help make the case that Christmas shopping began in earnest way before Halloween this year?

Online retail giant Amazon concocted an event in 2015 it called “Prime Day,” designed to drum up business mid-year when retail sales are traditionally slow. However, Prime Day in 2020 took place three months later than usual because of shipping challenges earlier in the year due to the pandemic. Prime Day 2020 was a two-day event in mid-October, so you tell me why it’s not called Prime Days?

Spending on Amazon’s U.S. e-commerce site Oct. 13-14 rose 36%, compared to Prime Day in 2019, when the event was held in July, according to data provided to media organization Fortune by research firm Edison Trends. Amazon doesn’t release the actual numbers from Prime Day, but eMarketer, another firm, had projected total sales would hit $6.17 billion in the United States and almost $10 billion including other markets.

Amazon said third-party sellers on its marketplace earned more than $3.5 billion during this year’s Prime Day shopping event, an increase of nearly 60% compared with last year and a record for the small and midsize businesses that make up the marketplace.

The other retail giants, however, were not going to just sit idly by and let Amazon have the whole pie. In fact, this year, Prime Day spurred competing deals from Arkansas-based Walmart, Target, Best Buy, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s, among others.

Therefore, the timing of this year’s Amazon event effectively turned mid-October into the kickoff for holiday shopping despite the fact that it occurred about three weeks earlier than the typical beginning of the season.

The success of the mid-October event for Amazon, its third-party sellers and the other retailers who offered deals and promotions at the same time raises a number of questions:

• Does this mean that the kickoff for the holiday shopping season will now permanently begin in October, or was this a one-off spurred only by the COVID-19 pandemic?
• If it is permanent, will retailers and suppliers begin taking on seasonal help sooner to help receive, stock shelves, and in the case of online retailers, ship merchandise?
• Will any of those seasonal workers be retained after Christmas?
• Will consumers spend their available Christmas money sooner and thus have less to spend during the period from Black Friday to Christmas Eve?
• Will spending overall on holiday shopping increase or will it simply be spread out over a longer period?

We know that the lingering pandemic will affect shopping on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when shoppers have traditionally jammed brick-and-mortar stores for that below-cost smart TV or bargain jewelry.

By the way, it’s called Black Friday because it gives retailers a chance to get themselves firmly in the black with huge sales volumes from the crowds drawn to their stores by the one-day deep discounts. Some have called it Black-and-Blue Friday because a crowded consumer isn’t always on his best behavior when he thinks someone else has snatched a bargain from under his nose and as a result, a scuffle breaks out.

With many store workers and consumers wary of being in crowded stores because of the pandemic, Walmart this year will spread out Black Friday deals over three separate periods starting early in November. For the deals coming the week of Thanksgiving, Walmart will offer them online first on Wednesday, Nov. 25, before making them available in stores on Black Friday, when stores open at 5 a.m., the better to reduce any rush on stores.

Walmart this summer said it would close on Thanksgiving for the first time in decades, a move quickly followed by rivals such as Target and Macy’s. Walmart will also limit the number of customers inside its stores to 20% of usual capacity.

My feeling is that shoppers will still get what they’re after and if not, they can choose to shop at another made-up event, Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving and a bonanza for online retailers and customers.

Americans spend about $1,536 per household during the Christmas holidays, but some recent surveys indicate that they will cut back this year. Published statistics indicate that more than three in four consumers make some purchases online. It is also said 60% of those who buy in person do so because they can put their eyes and hands on the products they’re considering to see if it is as advertised, is what they’re looking for and is worth the money.

However they buy, Americans will spend billions. One must wonder about folks who have lost their jobs, had their hours cut or have been unable to work because of the pandemic, their stimulus money long gone to pay rent, put food on the table or gasoline in the tank. For people who find themselves in that situation, Christmas — in the form of a pandemic-free, fully open economy — can’t come too soon.

Editor’s note: Paul Holmes is editor-at-large for Northeast Arkansas Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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