Monday, November 7, 2011

It Gets Worse and Worse Every Year

I had intended to write this before Halloween, but shit happens and at least I'm writing at all. Now that I've been working in retail for a few years, I've become more acutely aware of a complaint that everyone seems to make around this time - namely, how early stores begin putting out their Christmas decorations and merchandise. I hear it while walking through the store all the time. "Can't we just get through one holiday at a time?"

Now, I do understand why decking the halls this early is so frustrating for pre-holiday shoppers. I know that for a lot of people, the holidays are a crazy, stressful time. I know that it is a lot easier to focus on one thing at a time. I know that there are a lot of reasons people hate this early setup that I'm not aware of. But there are aspects to the situation from a retail standpoint that other people aren't seeing either. So here are some of the reasons why, while it might not be totally pleasant or satisfying for the general public, or even any of the 11 13 people that will ever read this, stores start setting up for Christmas before Halloween even gets close - from my limited perspective.

Reason the first: I've only worked in one retail store. My store competes with a number of other retail stores in the city, one of them being a WalMart. I can only speak for my store, and certainly not for WalMart, but our operating situation is such that we don't have the staff or budget to pay them to get things set up after Thanksgiving.

I've heard that Nordstrom's does all of its holiday set up while the store is closed on Thanksgiving day. They are lucky sons of bitches.

Over the last few weeks, we've had a few members of staff steadily working on getting the holiday decor onto the sales floor and getting set up. They're doing other, non-holiday-related set-ups for the store, so it's not a constant thing, but it is steady. There are a lot of projects, throughout the store, that happen in the many weeks leading up to the actual holiday season. It adds up to a lot of man-hours.

If we were to put off all those projects until after Thanksgiving, we would still have to give our staff work to do in the interim, and pay them for the work they do. Post-Thanksgiving, all those projects would be then compressed into the space of a day or two. Maybe a week. We'd need an increase in staff and hours in order to get it all done. It's just beyond our capability. So we start as early as we possibly can, and we hate it as much as everyone else.

Reason 2: We start getting sent holiday stuff unspeakably early. It can start getting shipped to our stores as early as September, or even August. And then it sits there, taking up space in the back rooms, until it can start going out. The earlier we can get that crap out onto the sales floor, the more room we'll have for the next wave of still unspeakably early holiday stuff. Or even the regular stuff, that also needs a place to sit until it can go out onto the sales floor.

If we stockpiled the holiday stuff for weeks in an effort to maintain any semblance of holiday sanity, it would overflow, and we'd eventually be buried under an avalanche of bells, bows, and chocolates. And there'd be no room for the regular stuff, too, so you'd have the occasional cases of motor oil and toilet paper adding to the avalanche. Fun!

Reason 3: This ties in to the previous reasons. The holiday merchandise takes up a large portion of the store. What would you think, as a shopper, if that portion was empty, devoid of product or decoration? We have to fill those empty places up. If we don't fill it up with holiday stuff, we'll have to fill it with regular stuff. And when we can put it off no longer and the holiday stuff needs to go out into its rightful place, that regular stuff has to get moved, either to another home in the store, or to the back rooms. It's a case of either doubling the necessary work, or not utilizing available space.

Let's face it, folks. Stores are places for the public to buy things. If there is an area that is not being used to display things that can be sold, it's being wasted. If there are products in the back that are not on display to be sold, those products and that space is also being wasted. For a store trying to stay open and provide jobs, we have to make this small sacrifice.

Ultimately, it all does boil down to money. Delaying the inevitable holiday set up has a huge financial impact on a store trying to stay competitive. As a shopper, is it more important to you that the holiday decor and merchandise is in place at the proper time of the season, or that it's clean, and well-stocked, and that the employees are able to help you with the things you need, even if they start decking the halls in October?

That said, there is no excuse for playing Christmas music any earlier than Thanksgiving. I've heard it's already started in some stores. I've been away from work for the weekend, but if I start hearing carols tomorrow night when I go back, I'm sure it'll make me quite a bit stabby.

EDIT: The Christmas music started yesterday. Somebody should be fired.
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