Like It or Not, the Holiday Shopping Season Just Started

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Many kids just started school. It’s technically still summer until September 22. On Wednesday, temperatures hit around 100 degrees throughout the Northeast. But don’t worry about any of that: Retailers say now’s the time to start thinking about Santa, snowmen, and Christmas shopping.

Just last week, the National Retail Federation—whose job it is to support efforts to help retailers reach consumers (and their dollars)—was still focusing on back-to-school shopping. It hasn’t even started pumping up Halloween spending yet. Nonetheless, retailers and gift item makers are trying to give the holiday shopping season its earliest ever jumpstart.

On Thursday, Walmart announced its hot holiday toy list, this year with a twist: Rather than going the usual route and having adults decide which toys children want most, the world’s largest retailer surveyed kids and asked them to pick their favorites. “We are taking the guesswork out of customers’ holiday toy shopping by turning to kids to tell us what the real top toys are,” Scott McCall, Walmart’s senior vice president of toys and seasonal, said in a press release. (Come to think of it: Parents, it might be a good idea to turn to your kids and ask what they want, rather than relying on other kids’ opinions.) Starting Friday, September, 13, Walmart’s hot toys, as well as many other items, are eligible for the retailer’s lay away program, which no longer tacks on the usual fees this season.

Earlier in the week—105 days before Christmas, an AdAge report noted—Kmart aired its earliest ever holiday ad, featuring a giant gingerbread man and a voiceover warning shoppers, “Don’t let the holidays sneak up on you.” For the 2012 season, Kmart’s first holiday commercial didn’t hit the airwaves until just before Halloween.

(MORE: Ouch! Majority of ‘Hot’ Holiday Toys Cost $50 or More)

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that electronics makers and retailers have been busy launching and marketing new gadgets that they hope will be hot gift items when people actually get around to giving them—more than three months down the line.

There’s nothing particularly new about the “Christmas creep” phenomenon. A couple of years ago, it was news that many store shelves featured holiday promotions by the end of September. There is also nothing new about consumers grumbling that stores shouldn’t be in such a big hurry to kick off the blatant quest for holiday shopper dollars.

After Kmart began airing its ad this week, some consumers took to the Kmart Facebook page to voice their displeasure. “What happened to Halloween and thanksgiving? Stop with the Christmas commercials ALREADY!!” one commented. “Why don’t you just start this on Jan 1st each year! This is ridiculous and if I see one ad on tv I will never shop in your store!” another chimed in.

(MORE: Study: The 1% Took an Even Bigger Slice of the Pie in 2012)

If Christmas creep annoys customers so much, why do retailers try to expand the season year after year? Well, it’s pretty clear that the early ads and marketing pushes don’t annoy everybody—at least not to the point that they hurt sales.

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of downside for the retailers” advertising and promoting early holiday shopping, Ted Marzilli, global managing director of BrandIndex, said regarding Christmas creep in 2011. “Until there are really people outside stores picketing I don’t think the trend will abate.”

Not only are there no angry picketers, but there seem to be plenty of shoppers encouraging retailers in their efforts to push the Christmas shopping season back into summer, or at least early autumn. Many commenters on Kmart’s Facebook page thanked the retailer for giving them early reminders about holiday shopping and services like lay away. According to last year’s National Retail Federation survey, 41% of Americans said they start their holiday shopping before Halloween, and about 20% begin by the end of September.

(MORE: Millennial Shoppers: Big on Browsing, Not Splurging)

So the easiest argument retailers can use to counter complaints about Christmas creep is simply: Hey, we’re only delivering what the customer wants.