Why you see Christmas items in stores during the summer: a story about supply chains

I confess that I don’t mind Christmas items in stores before Thanksgiving. While I agree that it’s too early, I understand why it’s sometimes a good business decision. Christmas items are similar to other “perishable” items like newspapers, produce, blood, and fashion, that go bad after Christmas in this case. These supply chains are managed differently than the supply chains for non-perishable items. Anna Nagurney has some excellent posts on perishable supply chains, blood banks, and blood supply chains.

I discovered an article about this by Kori Rumore in the Chicago Tribune that goes into detail about Christmas supply chains. Below I list a few supply chain observations I thought about or learned when reading the article. I use “Christmas” here generically because “holiday” is ambiguous, although other winter holiday items are often included with Christmas items (Christmas items make up the bulk).

  1. Christmas and holiday items are seasonal items in stores. Many box stores have a fairly large section dedicated to only seasonal items, where they put out many items for the next season. A typical seasonal section may rotate through the following merchandise: Valentine’s Day, Easter/spring, summer/beach, back to school, Halloween, and Christmas items. After Halloween, the next “season” associated with a lot of merchandise is Christmas. It’s better to stock the seasonal section with Christmas items than let it remain empty.
  2. Some stores like craft stores also have to deal with the crafting supply chain: you have to make holiday decorations well in advance of the holiday, so the holiday craft supplies need to be available for purchase crazy early. Christmas craft supplies often come out in the summer. I’m a regular at the craft store, but this never fails to surprise me.
  3. Seasonal items can sell out, so many consumers like to shop early while there a selection of items, and retailers have an incentive to cater to early shoppers (even if this irks most shoppers).
  4. The holiday items you see in the summer may be a tiny fraction of what you will eventually see after Thanksgiving, when the bulk of Christmas items grace store shelves. Some retailers only put out a few select items, such as collector’s items. The US Postal service and Hallmark sell to stamp and ornament collectors, respectively, and they put out Christmas items early for the collectors, not non-collectors like me. It had never occurred to me that I might not be the target audience for those early Christmas items.

The Chicago Tribune notes that 40% of consumers like to start holiday shopping before Halloween. I am one of them, but I usually shop for gifts, not holiday items. I’m a bargain hunter and usually buy holiday items like cards and wrapping paper when they are deeply discounted (the day after Christmas).

On a final note, supply chains are not why stores sometimes play Christmas and holiday music before Thanksgiving. There is no excuse for that 🙂

Where have you seen many Christmas items for sale?


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