August – the perfect time for Christmas shopping

It might be months before the clocks get put back, but that hasn't stopped department stores decking their halls with boughs of holly

By Susie Mesure
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:16

It is every traditionalist's nightmare. But that hasn't stopped Selfridges from hanging up the Christmas baubles before most people have had their summer holiday. And it isn't just Selfridges: Fortnum & Mason and Harrods both joined the department-store group in decking their halls months before the clocks get turned back.

Retailers are pushing Christmas stock earlier than ever in an attempt to get a head start on the festive season – and tap the summer tourist trade at the same time. Some also hope their strategy will help spread the cost for cash-strapped consumers who might otherwise cut back on spending.

For American shoppers, Christmas has come earlier still. The Sears department-store chain and Toys R Us both started selling Christmas-themed goods last month, while the MoMa Design stores, which are part of New York's Museum of Modern Art, are already selling Christmas cards and ornaments.

And for those who think Christmas in the summer is about as bad as it can get, be warned: Selfridges is considering offering a "capsule Christmas collection" year round. Geraldine James, its Christmas shop head buyer, said customers were voting with their wallets. Sales at its Christmas shop, which opened on 8 August, soared by 43 per cent in its first week of trading compared with last year.

Ms James said that many Christmas products could be displayed 365 days a year. "Customers don't have to wait until December to bring them out. Message decorations have been popular, in particular our 'Peace and Love' ornament for £8.95, which looks just as great on a bookshelf in August as it does on the Christmas tree in December. Local customers haven't been able to resist our pantomime-themed 'Ho Bloody Ho' baubles."

Debenhams will start stocking Christmas products before the end of the month. A spokeswoman said: "It goes in then because not everyone can afford to pay for everything for Christmas in December and [people] prefer to spread out their purchases."

That's the theory, at any rate. But not everyone believes it works. Neil Saunders, consulting director at the retail specialist Verdict, said: "The trick is not to start too early. There's a fine balancing act. If you hold it back you can build up some latent demand and benefit from people then splashing out."

Nick Bubb, analyst at the broker Pali International, said: "You've got to get Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night out of the way first before you can focus on Christmas. In the middle of August, it's too premature."

Just try telling that to Elaine Thompson, however. She owns the London-based Christmas Shop, which sells Santas, tree decorations and Christmas cards year round and has done so for more than two decades.

"We've been going 21 years now, so obviously it works," she said. "People know we're here. We get English people down in London for the weekend, as well as tourists, although we do have more sales towards the back end of the year. People like to come in and say, 'You're early' or, 'You're late this year'. They think they're really funny."

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