Is Early Shopping Running Amok?

Consumers and retailers continue to start the shopping season earlier, but aren’t we getting a little ahead of ourselves?

Today is Black Friday – historically the biggest shopping day of the year and the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. But this year, Black Friday may not be the big event it has been in the past. It seems not only are consumers keen to avoid the crowds, but for many, Black Friday won’t be as important because they started shopping much earlier.

The early trend started with early bird Black Friday deals – stand in line right after Thanksgiving dinner, get into the store at around 4 a.m. and beat the crowds. This push led to “Grey Thursday” where retailers offered deals throughout the day even before Thanksgiving dinner was on the table. This year however, many retailers started Black Friday promotions as early as last week.

On the positive side, this push may mean consumers don’t have to fight insane crowds to get the best deals. You can shop with more flexibility and still find savings to stick to your holiday budget. On the other hand, with a bigger the window of time, you have more opportunity to miss out on the best deals. Retailers aren’t likely to extend the best offers that would usually be reserved for Black Friday over a few weeks – if they did, they’d lose money. It’s more likely extreme savings would only be available at specific times.

So in the end, does moving the start of the holiday shopping season earlier really save anyone from holiday shopping stress? It’s unlikely. In fact, it may mean we simply start stressing about holiday debt earlier in the year. A survey by RetailMeNot found one in four shoppers were already stressing about holiday shopping back in October.

Interestingly, the survey also polled consumers around the world. It found American consumers start shopping earlier but are more stressed than almost any other consumers. Some countries like Italy are so unstressed that almost one in five shoppers will start buying gifts after the holiday season ends. And is the perfect gift that’s a few days late really a bad thing if it’s what the recipient really wanted?

In the end, you should really custom tailor your shopping strategy to your own budgeting needs. For example:

  • If you are on a really tight budget. Try shopping year-round to spread out the cost of gifts over twelve months. This helps you avoid heavy credit dependence at the holidays. Finish off your shopping list this year, pay off any credit card debt quickly and then start saving and shopping for next year so you can avoid this hassle.
  • If you’re tech-savvy. Take advantage of online sales and special shopping days like Cyber Monday. This will help you avoid the stores and save money because you can sign up for exclusive offers from your favorite retailer. You should even check the app store on your smart phone, since some retailers are offering money-saving apps.
  • If you’re buying a hot item for the year – particularly technology – consider waiting. Prices on new technology released before the holidays tend to get slashed after the New Year. What’s more, first-generation electronics like gaming consoles and computers often don’t function as well as they were intended. If you have a recipient that wants the latest technology, consider if you can discuss getting their gift after the holidays. That way, they get what they want and you avoid serious debt on an electronic device that may be broken out of the box.