NEW YORK (MainStreet) – No, this isn't “early” holiday shopping season -- it's just holiday shopping season.
As ill-prepared for the sight of Christmas decoration in the local Costco or Home Depot as many consumers are, it's time to dig deep and get over it: you're in holiday shoppers' territory now. A survey conducted over Labor Day weekend by CreditCards.com found that about one in seven American adults (14%) had already begun their holiday shopping. That equates to about 32 million American adults started crossing gifts off their holiday shopping list before most kids went back to school.
That's impressive, but it's been increasingly common. Last year, Google found that more than half of consumers began researching their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, with 26% starting before Halloween. Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation discovered that 40.4% of consumers planned to start their holiday shopping before Halloween but that 19% of all shoppers started their holiday shopping in December or earlier.
“People are starting their research early, and retailers are stretching Black Friday promotions across November, changing the focus from just one day to a month-long event,” notes Beth Thomas, retail industry development manager at Google.
Why do pre-November holiday shoppers do it? Most agree it helps them spread out their spending (61.9%). Half choose to do so to avoid holiday crowds (51.7%), and another 51.0% say shopping early helps them avoid the stress of last-minute shopping. Nearly three in ten (29.9%) say they shop for the holiday season year-round, and more than one-quarter (27.3%) say the desire to get their hands on specific items drives them to shop early.
“We love to complain about stores putting up holiday displays earlier and earlier each year,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, “but the truth is that millions of Americans start holiday shopping long before the first Christmas tree appears in a store.”
Not that stores are the only places where consumers are doing some early holiday shopping. According to market research firm ComScore, of the $53 billion spent online during the holiday shopping season from November 1 to December 31 of 2014, roughly 15% was spent in the three weeks prior to Thanksgiving week and Black Friday.
“The 2014 online holiday shopping season was very strong overall as spending slightly exceeded our fairly optimistic forecast heading into the season,” said comScore chairman emeritus Gian Fulgoni. “Despite a shortened holiday calendar between Thanksgiving and Christmas and erroneous reports of flagging holiday sales, the American consumer proved resilient and flexed their spending muscle online.”
In fact, CreditCards.com found that 18% of those who say they plan to do most of their holiday shopping online have already started. With the percentage of online holiday shoppers rising from 38% of all holiday shoppers in 2004 to 56% in 2014 -- just behind discount stores (62%) and department stores (60%) -- it isn't surprising that early holiday shopping rose as well.
Of the 15% percent of U.S. consumers who told CreditCards.com that they plan to start shopping earlier this year compared to last year, 22% of 18 to 29 year olds say they're looking forward to starting earlier, compared to just 9% of people 50 and older. However, it's the more traditional shoppers who are among the 2% of all consumers – or about 4.6 million people – who told CreditCards.com that they have already finished their holiday shopping. That includes 7% of those over 65 years old, compared to 1% or fewer of those 64 or younger. That group is more likely to shop in a department store (63% vs. 61% of the general population) or through a catalog (14.7% vs. 11.6%) while scrolling through their holiday gift lists.
Though 23% of holiday shoppers tell CreditCards.com that they expect to finish shopping by the end of November, that's really dependent on income. Just 19% of those who make $75,000 or more per year expected to finish their holiday shopping before December 1, compared to 30% of folks making $30,000 per year.
“If you’re on a budget, getting an early start on holiday shopping can be a great idea,” Schulz said. “For example, it can make it easier to take advantage of layaway programs, which can allow you to make bigger purchases without worrying about running up credit card debt.”
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.