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Survey: US Holiday Shopping Season Starts Early

Shoppers in the new Macy's Backstage store in Melville, New York, Sept. 2, 2015.
Shoppers in the new Macy's Backstage store in Melville, New York, Sept. 2, 2015.

As Americans lament the end of an always too brief summer, they will soon have something else to harp about – the increasing commercialization of the holiday shopping season. There are the incessant ads, the jingles, and the non-stop specials that prod consumers to shop early and shop often. But as much as Americans love to complain, the truth is that, for millions of consumers, the holiday shopping season has already started.

32 million early shoppers

A new survey by, an online resource for credit card consumers, shows that, since the Labor Day holiday - the unofficial end of summer (September 7, 2015) - a whopping 32 million Americans have already started checking items off their shopping lists. That’s roughly one in seven American adults, says analyst Matt Schulz:

“There’s a lot less pressure to buy the perfect gift when you have time to look” said Schultz. “There’s smaller crowds, and you can even take advantage of things like lay-aways.” Lay-aways are a popular payment option offered by some stores that give consumers the ability to make smaller payments over time. This way consumers can buy pricier gifts without having to use credit or pay for it all at once, said Schultz.

Nation of consumers

It’s not surprising when you consider that the United States is a nation of consumers. Economists say consumer spending accounts for nearly 70 percent of all U.S. economic activity. For some retailers, the last two months of the holiday season can account for as much as 20 to 40 percent of their overall profits for the year.

Income and age matter

According to the survey, one in four of all adult shoppers expect to finish their holiday shopping by the end of November. Of those, parents and grandparents are twice as likely as those without children to complete their holiday shopping by December 1st.

Another interesting finding: those who earn less are more likely to complete their holiday shopping before December 1st. Nearly one third of respondents earning $30,000 or less will finish their holiday shopping by December 1st. The figure drops to one in five for those earning $75,000 or more.

Black Friday

The Thanksgiving Day holiday, celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November, used to mark the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season. But the last recession prompted many retailers to find new ways to attract shoppers. The first full shopping day after Thanksgiving is often called “Black Friday” because it marks the day retailers finally shift into profit mode or “in the black.” More recently, retailers have found new ways to beat the competition and improve their profit margins with “Gray Thursday.” The term became popular last year when large retail chains started opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day.

Cyber Monday

For those wanting to avoid the long lines and the crush of people associated with Gray Thursday and Black Friday specials, the first day after the Thanksgiving weekend has its own moniker: "Cyber Monday." Retailers say the first full working day after the Thanksgiving holiday is now one of the busiest online shopping days.

Schultz credits the growth of online and mobile shopping platforms for changing American buying habits:

“Our survey found that people who do most of their holiday shopping online are more likely to have already started shopping.” Schultz says it’s all about convenience “because you can just go on your computer or smartphone anytime and go shopping.”

According to data collected by Google, 40% of holiday purchases occurred online in 2014. And of those who shopped online, Google says 53% used a smartphone or other mobile tablet device.

Retailers optimistic in 2015

The National Retail Federation says online holiday sales grew nearly 7% last year and helped boost total retail sales last year by more than 4%. The NRF has yet to post new estimates for the 2015 holiday shopping season, but, with an improving labor market, and lower gasoline prices, analysts are predicting a good year for retailers.

Last minute shoppers

Despite the obvious benefits of shopping early - more time to choose the perfect gift, wider selections, and more competitive prices - many American consumers remain committed last- minute shoppers.

But for those who like to do their holiday shopping on December 24th, Schultz offers this tidbit: two percent of American consumers, or roughly 4.6 million shoppers, have already completed their shopping. Happy Holidays!