All they want for Christmas is more time.
Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November. This year, Thanksgiving will land on Nov. 28, the latest possible date it can be. That leaves the holiday shopping season with six fewer days than last year.
Faced with the shortest holiday shopping season since 2013, retailers are trying to figure out ways to get into the minds of shoppers sooner.
Katie Shoriak, who owns Victoria’s Toy Station, a Baton Rouge store, said she expects “a wild, wild few weeks after Thanksgiving” because the shopping season will be so compressed with one less shopping weekend than normal.
“The holidays are going to sneak up on people,” she said.
Shoppers aren’t really thinking about Christmas just yet, Shoriak said. That generally doesn’t happen until after Thanksgiving — although she did get an encouraging sign for the season early last week.
The store offers a program through which parents submit their child’s Christmas wish list and Victoria’s Toy Station employees choose the toys for them. “We just got our first list this morning,” she said. “That’s the kickoff for when we know the season is starting.”
"Maybe with a later Thanksgiving more people will buy local since the holidays might sneak up on them," said Margaret Sche, co-owner of the St. Claude Social Club, a New Orleans women's boutique. "In general, if people are happy and feeling good, enjoying the weather and the season, business is good. It’s pretty simple sometimes."
National retailers pulled the trigger early this year. Walmart, for instance, began offering holiday deals online for toys, TVs and mini trampolines nearly a week before Halloween. And the owner of Zales and Kay Jewelers said it spent more on advertising between August and October.
Target Corp. said it's spending $50 million more on payroll during the fourth quarter than it did a year ago so there'll be more workers on hand to help harried shoppers scrambling to get their shopping done in a shorter amount of time.
"This is going to be a very compressed holiday season," Target CEO Brian Cornell told reporters during a holiday preview in New York. "We lose one full weekend during the holiday. Every single day counts, from Black Friday to Christmas Eve."
Steve Bratspie, who oversees Walmart's merchandise in the U.S., said shoppers will likely not realize there are fewer shopping days this year until it's too late.
"We plan for them," he said.
Adobe Analytics predicts a loss of $1 billion in revenue from a shortened season. Still, it expects online sales will reach $143.7 billion, up 14.1% from last year's holiday season.
Amazon said it doesn't expect much of an impact.
"The purchases tend to move around," said Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky, adding that people may buy more later in the season knowing they'll get their gifts delivered quickly.
Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at trade group National Retail Federation, said he baked the shorter season into his holiday forecast. However, the real drivers of sales, he said, will be the economy and the job market.
The organization predicts a healthy increase of anywhere between 3.8% and 4.2% for November and December, above the disappointing 2.1% gain from a year ago.
The last time the holiday season was cut short, in 2013, sales rose a modest 2.9%, according to the federation's analysis of holiday spending. But Kleinhenz said it's hard to isolate the impact of the shorter season because retailers were hurt by several big factors, including a series of winter storms as well as a government shutdown.
Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting group, thinks some retailers are using the quirk in the calendar as just another excuse if holiday sales don't live up to expectations.
"We think it is a bogus excuse," Johnson said. "It may have worked in the olden day before the internet."
As independent retailers and other small businesses prepare for the fourth quarter — the busy season for many of them — consumers are facing a national economy that has slowed this year.
Still, Americans stepped up their shopping last month, spending more online and buying more cars, evidence that consumers can still drive the economy’s growth. The Commerce Department said retail sales rose 0.3% in October, rebounding from a 0.3% drop the previous month. Sales increased 3.1% compared with a year ago. The report also indicates that shopping during the Christmas season could be solid. The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low and wages are rising, encouraging more shopping.
But there were several weak spots in the report. Spending at restaurants and bars fell 0.3%, the biggest drop in almost a year. That category is seen as highly discretionary and a decent sign of consumers’ health. And clothing stores reported a sharp 1% drop in sales, while furniture, home and garden, and electronics and appliances stores all reported declines.
E-commerce is still gaining steam. Sales in a category that mostly includes online and catalog shopping jumped 0.9% in October and 14.3% from a year earlier.
“Consumers are neither fearful nor exuberant,” but “steady as she goes,” said Julia Coronado, an economist at MacroPolicy Perspectives.
Ross Fontenot, owner of Genterie Supply Co., a Lafayette company that sells men’s and women’s clothing, accessories and gifts, said he’s optimistic about the upcoming holiday season. “I kind of always am,” he said.
While sales at Genterie were lower in December 2018 than the year before, he said November sales ran ahead of schedule. “We’re hoping we do better this year than last year.”
“It’s been a slow year for me, so we’re definitely relying on Christmas shopping,” he said. “We’re hoping that people will remember us at Christmas, even if they don’t come in here the rest of the year.”
Sche said she's hoping for a good holiday season because the St. Claude Social Club saw sales drop earlier this year because of bad weather. "Summer was brutal with all of the rain and the floods in our neighborhood," she said.
But she said if the weather cooperates and the New Orleans Saints keep on winning, that will help end the year on a positive note.
The retailers that management consultant Carlos Castelan works with nationally are planning for a possible recession, keeping their inventories lean and being cautious about hiring. He advises them to also think long term, responding to consumers' changing attitudes toward shopping.
"Americans are spending less time shopping," said Castelan, managing director of Minneapolis-based Navio Group. "But when they are coming in to shop, you need to help them, to answer their questions so they can overall have a memorable experience that keeps them coming back for more."
Tariffs are an issue for many retailers: new duties against Chinese goods that President Donald Trump ordered into effect Sept. 1 included tariffs on clothing, linens, jewelry, glasses and other tableware, all of which are big sellers during the fourth quarter. Earlier tariffs have sent prices of thousands of industrial and consumer goods higher.
But local retailers who discussed the issue said they don't think the tariffs on Chinese goods will have much of an impact on their sales.
“Only a few companies have really increased prices and it’s not been by a crazy amount,” said Shoriak, who compared the situation to the fears of fuel surcharges a few years ago, when gas prices were flirting with $4 a gallon.