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The Rescheduling of Seasonal Sales image

The Rescheduling of Seasonal Sales

Retailers are flipping the calendar on seasonal sales and displays.

Halloween, once confined to October, is now finding shelf space as early as July. The crafting chain Michael’s launched “100 Days of Halloween” in mid-July. Bath & Body Works launched a 100-piece collection of Halloween-themed soaps, candles, and home accessories on July 24. And Petco had its pet “Bootique” in place August 1 with 300 products.

Those launch dates could be in reaction to earlier Christmas promotions, which have creeped into October during deal days at retailers including Amazon, Walmart, and Target. In fact, some retailers have received holiday goods as early as August, a departure from the later timeline that was largely followed just a few years ago, said Matthew Kavet, CEO at licensed energy drink and candy tin supplier Boston America.

The trend toward ever-earlier shipments, deliveries, and floor displays comes after two years of product shortages caused by logistics issues followed by months of excess inventory. For now, retailers appear to be hedging their bets.

“We are shipping Christmas like crazy right now and have a lot more to go,” Kavet said. “I thought retailers would go back to a normal schedule this year, but they are not, and they are looking to bring products in earlier. In some cases, they want to secure inventory, so they are not late, and in others they are looking to put seasonal products in the store earlier.”

Indeed, crafts retailer JOANN installed its Halloween merchandise four weeks earlier this year after “reading market trends,” Chief Customer Officer Chris DiTullio said. The merchandise mix—much of which was under the chain’s private label brands—included an eight-foot-tall animatronic skeleton that was priced at $499.

“This meant pulling back on spring and summer seasonal buys, which allowed our inventory position to be cleaner and free up space for more Halloween products,” DiTullio said. “Customers responded immediately to the shift and are making purchases earlier with less promotional activity at a variety of price points.”

In addition to Halloween, JOANN will also be pulling forward holiday product sets with a focus on decorating and crafting to “capitalize on additional store traffic,” said Chief Merchandising Officer Rob Will.

Whether the pulling forward of seasonal product shipments and displays is a short-term trend or becomes a retail fixture remains to be seen.

“I expect an ever-growing holiday season is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future,” said Zak Stambor, Senior Retail and eCommerce Analyst with Insider Intelligence. “That said, I do think there’s a limit as to how early the season can start, as most shoppers don’t want to, and won’t, buy holiday items when they’re heading to the beach in the middle of summer.”

Moving forward, ongoing shipping delays and high logistics costs will likely inform retailers’ decisions around timelines. There has been spot pricing of $1,500 for a 40-foot container from China, licensing executives said, but container pricing has returned to pre-pandemic levels with approximately $1,800 – $2,200 for West Coast deliveries and $2,500 – $3,000 for the East Coast.

And despite a severe drought that is threatening shipping in the Panama Canal—one that’s expected to stretch 10 months—licensing executives we polled weren’t concerned.  There are overland routes to bypass the Canal area, albeit at higher prices, or the deliveries could be rerouted to ports in Los Angeles, CA. The Canal moves about 40% of the world’s global cargo ship traffic.

“The uncertainty of COVID-19, then the supply chain blowing up, inventory overload, and a slowdown by the consumer made the last three years one wild ride,” said Jay Foreman, CEO at toy supplier Basic Fun. “I get the distinct feeling that we’ve turned a corner, and I have sensed that from the tone of the retail buyers.”

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