Christmas merchandise out before Halloween.

I keep hearing and seeing complaints about the fact that some stores have their Christmas merchandise out on display before Halloween. I understand the frustration; people who celebrate Christmas tend to put a big emphasis on it and as a result it’s quite stressful. The last thing they want to be reminded of is a stressful holiday when there’s still two more big holidays (in the States, anyway) and three months to go. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, or at least try not to make such a big deal out of it, it can still be a hectic time to try to go anywhere. Shopping districts especially can be a nightmare. So I get it when somebody shares a “funny” picture on Facebook complaining about Christmas merchandise out so soon.

The problem is that there are actually reasons why stores do so—and it’s not just to do with trying to make extra sales on that merchandise early (although, if they are able to make money that way, and that’s what the store is there to do, then you can hardly blame them). I can only speak from my experience as a receiver in department stores that are part of smaller chains, and even then some of the following is based on impressions, not hardcore facts. But the point I’m making is that while it sucks to be reminded of Christmas too early, there are actually valid reasons for doing so.

First of all, so far the Christmas merchandise I’ve referred to would be items specifically designed for the holiday—decorations, wrapping paper, santa hats, t-shirts that say “I’m not Santa but you can sit on my lap anyway” and so on. But to a department store “Christmas” doesn’t just mean the holiday. It largely also refers to other types of merchandise that can be sold as gifts. Toys are a huge department in this area. Anything to do with cooking is another good example. We sell a lot of appliances at my store around this time. On top of all of that we also sell food, so there’s a lot of emphasis on foods that can be given as gifts as well as anything that would be prepared for the festivities.

With all of this extra merchandise coming in, it’s no wonder that the distribution center wants to send it all out to the stores alongside the holiday-themed merchandise. Once the stores get it there’s a rush to get the Christmas-themed area of the store set up early before the seasonal shopping time begins. They don’t want to leave everything sitting around in the backroom.

Then you get stores like mine, which have something we call “packaways.” At the end of every specific shopping season (the largest being Christmas and Lawn and Garden) we pack up merchandise, wrap it up on pallets and then ship them to the distribution center where it’s stored until next year. With all of the new seasonal merchandise coming in, as well as the summer stuff we’re sending to them to store, the distribution center has to get rid of the Christmas packaways to us so they can make room. In turn we need to get that merchandise out to the sales floor because a.we now have a lot of room where the summer stuff was and b.we don’t have enough room out back to keep all of the Christmas packaways we just got. That’s why in the particular store I work at we’re putting out our older Christmas stuff next week.

I want to stress that if we don’t have anything to put in our seasonal section between “Back to School” season and Christmastime we would have no merchandise out on large sections of the store, which means that much space isn’t being used to make the store money. We might as well get the dreaded Christmas merchandise out and try to sell some of it ahead of time.

To continue this ever-so-fascinating subject, I should mention what is known in the business as “Inventory.” I know that the word “inventory” is commonplace and it’s not a word that you might not recognize, but note that I was using a capital “I” in this case. I do so to refer to a specific activity that happens once a year for most chain stores. They hire out a third party to come into the store and count their inventory in order to match it to their own computer system. That’s why certain times of year you might go into a store and find people in uniforms different from what the store’s employee’s wear, scanning merchandise with hand-held devices and then counting it.

Because it’s such an ordeal many companies schedule their stores’ Inventory to be conducted during slow seasons. Usually this is sometime after Christmas. We usually get ours in January. The distribution center also gets an Inventory, which has to happen before any of the stores get theirs. As a result they usually do theirs in the fall, before they send out Christmas merchandise to stores. That only adds to the push to get this type of freight through more quickly.

Of course any anxiety that the customer feels upon seeing the Christmas merchandise is internal and not the store’s fault. Maybe they should examine why they feel anxiety towards Christmas in the first place. None of it bothers me; I don’t celebrate the holiday religiously and when the family does get together it’s group participation. And the traffic never bothers me that time of year. I usually manage to do my shopping with a schedule that gets me out of the malls pretty quickly. If I do get to them during busy times it’s for the sake of people-watching and the traffic doesn’t bother me.

I might have said before that I have a level of Schadenfreude. When people express dismay at seeing Christmas merchandise in the store I have a small laugh to myself. The only thing that bothers me is when people complain about it on a more general basis, as if it was a temporary issue and their discussion is going to make the problem go away. Sorry, but I seriously doubt that any amount of cartoons on social media is going to change these company executives’ minds, especially when they end up making money on the deal. If you’re going to complain then complain about the people who actually buy the Christmas merchandise this early, not the stores that carry it.

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