Retail Traffic

It's Not Too Early

The sounds of the season: "Why do they have the Christmas decor out already?" "Why do they have Santa arrive at the mall two weeks before Thanksgiving?" "Why is it that they force Christmas to come earlier every year?"

"Aren't they rushing things?"

"They," dear readers, is you. And apparently me, since each of those questions has been directed to me recently.

I am not a mall manager, a store manager or even the manager of the office coffee collection. However, as a representative of the shopping center industry, I felt an obligation to answer their (probably rhetorical) questions.

I came up with five reasons why "they're rushing things."

1. Anxiety. When 25 percent of retail sales occur in November and December alone, retailers can get a little anxious. They want to get a good start.

2. Inventory control. With an early start, merchants can get a feel for the "must-have" items and stock up accordingly. (How many managers were held personally accountable for not having Tickle Me Elmo in grand supply last year?)

An early start to the season, I theorized, also is an attempt to level out the crowds and maintain some predictability in operations. Operating a mall or a store at Christmastime could easily qualify as another event in the Iron Man contest.

3. Supply and demand. Santa is the man of the hour -- and he's a solo act. In order to bring some order to the chaos of having hundreds of young children impatiently waiting to talk to Santa, he shows up a little earlier than he used to.

4. A level playing field. Shopping centers are not the only means of retail distribution, and the competitors are not bashful. Holiday catalogs arrived in my mailbox in September, and all year long, retailers have been constructing their web sites on the Internet. According to Stephanie Shern, vice chairman of Industry Services at Ernst & Young L.L.P. and chairman of E&Y's International Retail and Consumer Products Network, Internet shopping promises to be a measurable factor in holiday sales this year for the first time.

Shopping centers want to secure their place as the primary means of distribution for goods and services, so they nudge their patrons with colorful decor and pleasant music.

5. Hope. In extending the Christmas shopping season, there is more time for the true meaning of Christmas -- peace on earth, good will toward men -- to show itself. Why can't early Christmas shopping spark early Christmas spirit? (One good rhetorical question deserves another.)

Let me know how you answered your critics.

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