When Does the Christmas Holiday Sales Season Start?

Black Friday Is Still the Standard

Couple with packages,shopping in city.
••• Betsie Van der Meer / Getty Images

No official start date exists for retailers to begin launching their Christmas holiday season sales. In fact, each year, different retailers experiment with new types of sales, shopping incentives, and earlier start dates in an effort to enhance shopping opportunities for their customers, both online and in-store. The Christmas/holiday retail sales season is dynamic and continues to evolve.

As a current rule of thumb, the unofficial kickoff event for holiday shopping usually hovers around Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Some larger department stores have experimented in previous years with launching holiday shopping sales on Thanksgiving Day. However, this was met with a lot of backlash, mainly for not considering the needs of the stores' employees.

The perfect time for you to start a holiday sales campaign in your business depends on two things: The nature of your business and the market you serve.

When and Why to Start Holiday Sales

It's unclear whether starting holiday sales earlier in the year has any benefits, in part because each business and market is different. There are some obvious drawbacks that do span multiple industries, though. First and foremost, pushing too hard for sales is almost always a way to turn-off potential buyers.

Few shoppers want to see a store decked out for the fall holidays before Halloween, especially because they're still recovering from back-to-school sales and may need a break before they ease into the holiday season. Even the day after Halloween is just too soon for most shoppers and is more likely to lead to eye-rolling and irritation than to pre-holiday sales.

If handled poorly, early holiday sales events can end up costing retailers. For instance, temporary or seasonal hires hired on too early can end up costing more if hired earlier in the season when the store doesn't have the additional sales to support the extra staff.

Another issue is taking up store space with Christmas inventory instead of other year-round merchandise that could be selling. If the Christmas items aren't selling yet, that's a waste of potentially valuable retail space.

Choosing the Right Products for Holiday Sales

It pays to put some thought into which products and services you discount for the holiday sales season, and when you start offering the discounts. For example, there are many types of products and services that people need to plan for or purchase long in advance of the holidays.

This includes travel services, wedding arrangements, and big-ticket items like new cars. Offering a "Christmas in July" sale for cars, trucks, and similar items make sense. However, offering "Christmas in July" sales for winter-season clothing and ice skates may not go over as well because they're not big-ticket and the weather's still warm.

Conversely, if you live in a cold climate where people associate the crisp, cool air with the ushering in of the holidays, you may find it easier to market winter items earlier in the year than you would in Florida or Southern California where people are less likely to be thinking scarves, mittens, and hats.

Keep Timing in Mind

Timing matters because of your target customers' paycheck cycles and year-end pay. Some people only shop towards the end of the year when they get their annual Christmas bonuses. If your target market does not have money to spend earlier in the season, consider offering a layaway plan where shoppers can pay off a large purchase over a number of weeks.

And don't forget about the shoppers who do a good part of their buying after the holidays to take advantage of after-Christmas sales. Many people have cash and gift cards to use, and they're likely to have lighter work schedules which allow them to spend more time shopping than before the holidays.

Do What's Best for Your Business

Perhaps the best holiday sales tip for all business owners is to aid just following what your peers do. It is always wise to study what the competition is doing but just because someone else started their holiday sales campaigns in October does not mean that it was a good decision, or that it will work for your business. 

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