How Early Should Retailers Decorate for the Holidays?

Get your customers in the gift-giving mood by decorating early for the upcoming holiday season.
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Customers may not like it, but decorating in advance of the holidays is the only way to successfully cash in on the season. (Photo: Ditty_about_Summer/Shutterstock)

You may think October is a bit early for rolling out holiday decor, but there’s a reason retailers start decorating for Christmas early — namely consumer’s wallets.

If you wait until December to put out your holiday merchandise, you may miss your chance to cash in on the season, said Bob Phibbs, CEO of New York-based consultancy The Retail Doctor.

“Most customers have a mental budget of what they will spend for the holidays,” he said. “The sooner those customers have spent money earmarked for holiday purchases, the less they will spend when it comes the traditional time to think about buying holiday gifts.”

Ready to get your customers in the gift-giving mood? Here are four things to consider when choosing how early to decorate your store for the holiday season.

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“Retailers should focus on holidays that match their products, location and [customer] demographic.” -Naomi Coleman (Photo: Naomi Coleman)

Understand your audience

As with any marketing strategy, knowing your target audience is key to determining which holidays your business should decorate for and how soon to deck the halls.

“Retailers should focus on holidays that match their products, location and [customer] demographics,” advised Naomi Coleman, founder and creative director of boutique PR and branding agency Access by NKC. “It’s best to focus on a few main holidays that will capture the vast majority of your demographic. Smaller holidays can still be achieved, if your consumers reflect a certain religion or demographic.”

Identify which holidays are most important to your local community and focus on those. For example, while much of the country holds minor celebrations on St. Patrick’s Day, cities with significant Irish heritage (such as Boston or Philadelphia) see March 17 as a major traditional holiday. Or, if your store is in a predominantly Jewish community, it may make sense to give your seasonal decor a strong Hanukkah influence.

To help decide how early to put up a Christmas tree in your retail storefront or lay out a Kwanzaa centerpiece, Coleman suggested exploring sales data from past years.

“Retailers have to understand the majority of their consumers. Tracking consumer reports from previous years can help to understand which holidays matter most to your consumers,” she said.

Stay ahead of the market

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Learn from the fashion industry — it is important to stay ahead of the market when it comes to stocking holiday merchandise. (Photo: everydayplus/Shutterstock)

While some consumers may be frustrated by seeing holiday merchandise out before Halloween, the market doesn’t leave retailers with much of a choice, explained Coleman.

“From a business standpoint, the only way to beat the market is to stay ahead of the market,” she said. “Each year, we consistently see holiday sales pushed up. Black Friday moved to Thanksgiving Day. Every season and holiday is always ‘ahead of its time’ because of how our market is structured.”

The fashion industry is another prime example. Each season is presented several months in advance, so consumers will see spring and summer fashions start arriving during the fall and winter.

Whether they approve of your early holiday decor or not, Coleman continued, “consumers will be prepared to shop the moment you release the seasonal decor or items. Being first among area retailers to get them in the holiday spirit can help boost your seasonal sales.”

Avoid overstock

“Too many retailers wait until a couple weeks before an event to put out holiday or seasonal decor.” -Bob Phibbs (Photo: Bob Phipps)

Likewise, if you wait too long to trim the tree or put out the menorah, it could negatively impact your business, said Phibbs. His advice: decorate early and try to get rid of all your holiday stock before the day arrives.

“Too many retailers wait until a couple weeks before an event to put out holiday or seasonal decor,” he said. “They keep the full price until the day of the event then mark it down, where it sits for another several weeks like unwanted candy after Halloween.”

Focusing on getting seasonal products out the door before the holiday itself will help maximize your profits by keeping markdowns lower and prevent excess inventory and long-term storage.

Ease your holiday decor in slowly

For retailers concerned about turning off customers by decorating too far in advance for a holiday — regardless if it’s Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day or the Fourth of July — Coleman suggested decorating incrementally.

“Dealing with customers that have issues with early holiday decor could be resolved be easing in the amount of decor into your store, starting with a small corner at the beginning season and introducing more as the holiday approaches,” she said.

You can also test your market’s receptiveness to holiday messaging with an email marketing or social media campaign before you hang the holly.

Every business is different, so there is no hard and fast rule for when you should decorate your store for the season. Just remember that the longer you wait, the more likely you are to miss out on holiday sales.

“Shoppers who plan are already buying. Anything they buy from someone else is less chance for them to buy from you,” said Phibbs. “You are either a merchant who understands their role is to make money off the product they have purchased and will do what moves that merchandise the best, or you are basically a consumer wanting to do what you want. Merchants are the only ones who will survive.”

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