Every year, there's a predictable amount of hand-wringing over what's dubbed "Christmas Creep." People bemoan Black Friday sales that start as early as Thanksgiving afternoon (often with good reason), and roll their eyes when the first Christmas commercials start airing in September. And we were a bit taken aback when Walmart kicked off its holiday season by announcing its layaway program way back on Aug. 21.
But we're starting to wonder if it might not be such a bad idea to get your shopping out of the way in October.
On Thursday we got a chance to look at what Toys R Us has planned for the holiday season. And what struck us the most was how early the retailer wants to you to start shopping.
"Many of our customers said to us, 'We hate the hectic pace of December, we want to have the opportunity to shop early,'" said Toys R Us Chief Marketing Officer Richard Barry. He added, though, that those customers wanted to make sure they were able to get good deals on the full range of products.
Toys R Us' solution is to start Black Friday-style discounts this month. It's already sending out "friends and family" coupons for Sept. 19 and 20 that offer 20 percent off your entire purchase (if you can't find a physical coupon, you can use the code FRIENDS20 online). He also announced a program for rewards members that lets you earn 10 percent back in rewards dollars on all purchases between now and the end of October.
Barry refused to talk about what the retailer has planned for Black Friday, so we don't know how these super-early deals stack up. And keep in mind that there might be hot Christmas items that won't come out until the official holiday season kick-off -- for instance, the next generation Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, which come out in November.
Still, most of Toys R Us' exclusive offerings are already on the shelves, and these are solid discounts. So we have to admit that it makes some sense to start checking things off your list in the next month, instead of running around in December trying to find the hot toy that's sold out. And the early shopping strategy also makes sense if you're shopping for Chanukah -- the Jewish holiday starts on the evening before Thanksgiving this year, so waiting until Black Friday for deals isn't feasible.
In an another attempt to attract early shoppers, Toys R Us will also be extending its return policy so that people who buy gifts in September can return them in January if the kids aren't impressed.
"No reason why not to shop early," he says.
Still, it's clear that Toys R US is a little self-conscious about starting its holiday shopping this early: When asked how the early offerings would be positioned, Barry seemed to imply that the retailer won't come right out and call it a holiday sale. "In terms of our core holiday program ... we don't plan to have anything coming dramatically earlier, as some other people have done," he says. In other words, Toys R Us wants you to start your holiday shopping earlier, but it doesn't want to get flack for breaking out the "H-word" in September.
As for the toys, the company is skewing more educational this year. Barry noted ongoing softness in the entertainment sector in general, particularly with regard to video game sales. Interest in educational toys, though, has ramped up, so Toys R Us is overhauling its stores: It's adding mini-stores dedicated to Legos and other construction toys, and it will also have store-within-store areas dedicated to its line of tablets. To make room, it's tightening up its baby supplies departments and reducing the amount of space dedicated to DVDs and musical instruments.
The exclusive toys we saw on display also skewed heavily toward the educational, with telescopes, microscopes, educational maps and language learning DVDs. We've got a roundup of some of Toys R Us' exclusive offerings below.