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An Early Holiday Start Requires A Strong Finish

Monday September 30th, 2013 - 12:28PM

With summer officially over, retailers are getting as early a jump as possible in the race to holiday sales glory. 

It’s not unusual to find warehouse clubs slipping in trim-a-tree by late August, and retailers in general seem to be starting their holiday pushes sooner each year.

There’s an even greater sense of urgency this year with the late-as-possible Thanksgiving (November 28) narrowing the traditional holiday shopping window by nearly a week compared to the 2012 schedule.

Layaway programs are off to a head start, holiday-themed promotions are cued up and most stores will be decked in holiday splendor as soon as (and maybe before) the last goblin rings the doorbell.

Lighter Traffic

Early estimates expect retail store foot traffic during the holiday season to decline year over year by about 1.5% because of a compressed Thanksgiving-to-Christmas period exacerbated by the expanding imprint of digital shopping. That intensifies the gambit among brick-and-mortar and e-commerce operators alike to get out of the gates sooner in pursuit of holiday shopping share.

It also raises questions about how well retailers and their suppliers are prepared to serve earlier promotional campaigns; and then to respond to ebbs and flows in demand, including the usual last-minute surge, as the season progresses. 

Inventory planning and execution continues as one of the chief challenges confronted this time of year by everyone along the supply chain. Ads have been set months in advance along with preliminary quantities, but some vendors suggest delayed retail orders are pressuring timely fulfillment. 

Nothing would stunt early promotional momentum more than out-of-stocks.

Guessing Game

Some fiscally and operationally robust vendors might have chosen to build and hold goods earlier at the high range of pre-order commitments, which also could give them more flexibility during the season. It’s a trickier guessing game for companies with restricted inventory financing and distribution dexterity— and this industry has lots of them.

Shared Accountability

Most retailers and vendors probably prefer to err on the conservative side of an inventory projection. That’s understandably prudent. What a shame it would be, however, to come up short too early in the season because there wasn’t enough informed determination and shared accountability to pull the trigger on a more assertive inventory mix.

It might be too late to avoid potential shortcomings this season. We’ll find out soon enough who has the best plan for an early jump on holiday sales glory, who gets off to a false start and who has the goods to finish the race strongly.

On your mark. Get set. Season’s Greetings!

—Peter Giannetti