The other day, my husband purposely let me glance at his phone. There, in all its advertising glory, was a simple but clear message--Black November was here.

Black whaaaa...?

Yep. Not Black Friday. Not Black Friday week. But Black November. As in a whole month.

It's the latest, increasingly prevalent evidence of so-called "holiday creep," where both online and brick-and-mortar retailers put out their whatchamacallits and gizmos early.

Why the rush?

As Marty Brochstein, a retail expert and senior vice president for the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association explains, this tactic isn't so much a way for companies to offer sales. Rather, it's an opportunity to charge customers full price ahead of time. The hope, according to Ted Marzilli, global managing director of BrandIndex, is simply to beat competitors to the punch and tie up a bigger percentage of consumers' limited budgets. The trend has gotten worse in recent years, at least in part because more and more companies are feeling an economic pinch and are looking for any and every strategy to stay financially stable.

But what exactly do consumers think about holiday shopping getting earlier and earlier in the year?

For some shoppers, retailer woes are their gain, letting them find gifts with reduced stress and less of an all-of-sudden hit to the wallet. It can offer some psychological relief in that it gets them in the mood for the next season, refocusing them away from what they perceive as the unpleasant warmth of summer and fall.

With this in mind, U.S. holiday sales are expected to hit as much as $720.89 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, and because November shopping outpaces December overall, that Black November concept isn't just something companies made up to be snarky. Eighteen percent of shoppers are early birds who start grabbing items in September or even earlier, and 40 percent start their holiday shopping by November 1. Most of the spending happens online and is directed toward family, friends, and co-workers rather than toward non-gifts.

But just because holiday creep gets some people to open their pocketbooks doesn't mean shoppers aren't annoyed. A 2016 CivicScience survey found 81 percent of respondents believed retailers should decorate for just one holiday at a time, for example, with only 6 percent wanting to see the decorations early. The same survey found 59 percent of respondents thought Halloween was too early to sell Christmas merchandise or decorations. Some 31 percent thought before Thanksgiving was too early, and 9 percent thought before December was too early.

In response, some companies are making headlines by purposely rejecting creep. This trend is most noticeable on Thanksgiving, when some stores intentionally tell workers to stay home and enjoy the full holiday with their loved ones. This year, for example, stores such as Costco, Sam's Club, H&M, Nordstrom, and the entire Mall of America plan to stay closed. This strongly appeals to the message of family and community connection, which meets the spirit of Thanksgiving. Plus, companies can encapsulate this idea in a broader vision message--the companies stand for something better than greed. That might help improve customer-business trust.

So what's the bottom line?

Fall to creep and yes, you'll get customers. If you're hurting financially, that might make a critical difference, and there's nothing wrong with appealing to a specific demographic. But this must be an intentional choice, since creep is not what the majority of customers want. It might be better to take a stand and, for the sake of the long game, think about appealing to the larger percentage of people who don't want their holidays mixed up on the shelf. After all, there are only so many days and weeks on the calendar. When creep pushes back as far as it can (which we might be seeing now), when there's truly no more room to outpace the others, then what will you do?

Published on: Nov 7, 2018