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Many retailers are pushing holiday sales already. Should c-stores follow suit?

Set yourself up for success by ensuring customers think of your store as a destination for holiday gifts and entertaining essentials.
Shopping cart with snowflake and words Christmas and convenience

Christmas creep – the term used to describe stores bringing out holiday-themed inventory and decorations well before December – has been a trend for years.  

However, retail analysts say Christmas has arrived particularly early in 2022 – and it’s not just a bit here and there.

“It hasn’t been the sprinkling of holiday stuff you typically see ahead of Halloween,” says Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at J.C. Williams Group. “Retailers are already in full-blown holiday mode.”

This includes putting out advent calendars to holiday décor and even starting holiday sales events. Some retailers have also posted their holiday return policies already, she says.

These retailers are looking to capture a shift in holiday shopping behaviour. According to Deloitte Canada’s recently released 2022 Holiday Retail Outlook, more than one in three Canadians (37%) plan to shop earlier for the holiday season.

Memories of cleaned-out shelves of Christmas past due to supply chain challenges are surely top of mind.

That is not the only factor driving early holiday shopping. Of this group of Canadians, nearly half (46%) believe it will help them get better deals. The fear if they wait? Prices will be even higher because of inflation. And budgeting is a key concern for many households. Four in 10 Canadians have seen their household finances worsen this year, according to Deloitte’s holiday report.

Bruce Winder, retail analyst and author of Retail Before, During & After COVID-19, says c-stores should act on these trends.

“If you’re a convenience store, start early – bring out some of your Christmas stuff, so that your customers start thinking of your store as a destination for holiday gifts and holiday entertaining essentials,” he advises.

“Second, I would get promotional, as people will be looking for deals,” he says. “I am not saying throw your margins out the window, but if there was ever a time to offer a buy one, get another for 25% off, it is this holiday season.”

Hutcheson agrees that c-stores need to get stock in early.

“If they bring it out too late, they may have to mark it down because a lot of customers may not need it anymore. They may have gotten it already somewhere else,” she says.

The Holiday Retail Outlook also found more than half of Canadian consumers say they prefer to buy gifts that support small or local businesses, with consumers in Atlantic Canada most likely to buy local (71%).

Hutcheson says a community-based and independent c-store or chain has an opportunity to capture holiday market share.

“I would suggest they put out messages on social media, so that their customers think, ‘Oh, I should pick that up as a stocking stuffer,’” says Hutcheson.

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Jaay's Convenience Holiday Instagram post
Jaay's Convenience Holiday Instagram post

Convenience Store News Canada scrolled through some of the Instagram accounts of independents and small chains from last Christmas.

On its Instagram pageJayy’s Cheers Convenience, for instance, which has a location in Toronto and one in North York. Ont., posted a limited-edition Warheads Holiday Pack on Dec. 22, an Elf-themed International Delight Peppermint Mocha Creamer on Dec. 13, and Lifesavers and Pillsbury candles on Nov. 1.

It also created a Holiday Treats Gift Guide on Dec. 10, which included gingerbread-flavoured Oreo cookies.

Outliers resisting the trend

Early holiday outreach turns some consumers off.

Still, both Hutcheson and Winder say a lot of people are looking forward to a different Christmas this year, hopeful of a return to some normalcy with in-person gatherings, and may welcome it.

However, at least one family-owned c-store chain feels this early-to-market strategy is too commercial.

“We don’t put anything out until Nov. 11,” says Gerry Bes, general manager at Little Short Stop Stores in Ontario. “We even ask our distributors not to ship anything prior to then, and if they do, we leave the merchandise in the backroom until after Nov. 11.”

Little Short Stop Stores keeps the focus post-Halloween on Remembrance Day and its support of the Royal Canadian Legion’s poppy fundraiser, explains Bes.

“What retailers are trying to do is get people to buy products early, and then use them before Christmas, so that they buy it again,” says Bes, who points out a lot of retailers take the same strategy to getting out early for Halloween with themed confectionary.

“And so, I understand the motivation,” he says.  “But in some respects, I think retailers have lost the empathetic side of retailing, and are just very commercial.

“For us, it’s a question of where we draw the line, and we’ve decided to draw it there. We may lose some sales,” adds Bes, “but it’s more important for us to respect the remembrance of Nov. 11.”

Hutcheson agrees that retailers need to take a balanced approach.

“You might want to have some holiday stuff at the back of the store for now, and then move it up closer to the front in November, depending on your market and what the competition is doing,” she explains.

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