Target, Amazon, Best Buy and others announce their holiday deals before Halloween. Even more retailers started their holiday marketing, including emailing shoppers, sending gift guides and advertising on Instagram in September. 40% of shoppers say the plan to start their holiday shopping In October or before.

Before the calendar flipped to Oct. 1, retail chain Target Corp. announced it would have a “Deal Days” promotion Oct. 10-12, offering discounts on thousands of items. It also promised to match its own lowest prices on any items from Oct. 10-Dec. 24, encouraging shoppers to purchase early and without worrying about missing a deeper discount later during the holiday shopping frenzy.

Not even a week later, the U.S.’s larger online retailer Amazon.com Inc. unveiled its “Black Friday-worthy” deals on Oct. 4. The unveiling included a landing page for its deals, several gift guides and gifting tools, such as a feature that allows Amazon Prime members to give a gift without knowing the recipient’s address. Amazon is No. 1 in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000.

And with two large mass merchants publicly announcing their holiday promotion plans, other retailers have followed, such as Kohl’s Corp. (No. 18), Sam’s Club (owned by Walmart, No. 2) and Best Buy Co. Inc. (No. 5).

Besides announcing the promotions, merchants for months having been using holiday messaging to spur consumers to shop. In fact, 59% of retailers said they have or will begin their 2021 holiday marketing in October or before, according to Digital Commerce 360’s retailer survey of 100 merchants.

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For example, apparel retail chains Gap Inc. (No. 19) and Macy’s Inc. (No. 13) both sent marketing messages in July promoting sales that used holiday marketing language, alluding to the holidays.  Those included a “Cyber in July” sale from Gap and “Black Friday in July Specials” from Macy’s.

Macy's markets a "Black Friday in July Specials" sales in an email.

Macy’s markets a “Black Friday in July Specials” sale in an email.

In mid-September, more merchants started showcasing their holiday-focused goods. For example, on Sept. 14, Target Corp. (No. 6) sent an email announcing “Christmas is here! (At Target)” and promoted its Christmas decor, including stockings, lights and trees. On the same day, apparel retail chain Anthropologie (owned by Urban Outfitters Inc., No. 33) emailed its shoppers that its app had an exclusive 24-hour holiday pre-shop, and “don’t miss the merry!” Web-only merchant UncommonGoods LLC (No. 889) emailed its shoppers on Sept. 16, featuring holiday decor and announcing there are only 100 days to Christmas.

Web-only merchant UncommonGoods emailed shoppers on Sept. 16 encouraging them to "get gifting."

Web-only merchant UncommonGoods emailed shoppers on Sept. 16 encouraging them to “get gifting.”

Anthropology has a holiday-pre sale for app shoppers.

Anthropology has a holiday-pre sale for app shoppers.

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Now into October, more merchants have joined the fray in promoting the holidays through emails, on their websites, in social media ads or mailing print gift guides to shoppers, including Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (No. 26), Kohl’s, toy brand Melissa & Doug, toy merchant Fat Brain Toys LLC (No. 713) and Loft.com (owned by Ascena Retail Group, No. 47).

Fat Brain Toys holiday gift guide email - Oct. 2, 2021

Fat Brain Toys holiday gift guide email – Oct. 2, 2021

Loft.com advertises a "Cyber Fall" sale in September.

Loft.com advertises a “Cyber Fall” sale in September.

Hanna Andersson - Oct. 10 - holiday promotion on social media

Hanna Andersson’s social media post promotes the holidays on Oct. 10.

In September, two merchants in Digital Commerce 360’s top 25 retailers and three merchants out of the top 25 retailers in Digital Commerce 360 Next 1000 had some holiday promotions in their emails. As of Oct. 13, that bumped up to six merchants in the top 25, and still three medium-sized retailers in the top 25 of the Next 1000.

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Early holiday marketing, supply chain concerns will smooth out holiday sales

Retailers promoting the holidays earlier will ultimately spread out the holiday season spending, says Seema Shah, senior director of research and analytics at web measurement firm Similarweb Ltd.

“There will be a less dramatic jump in November sales year over year, which was typical historically,” Shah says. “Promotions and constant discussion of supply chain issues and inventory shortages may drive consumers to spend in October and November, rather than waiting until the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.”

Crate & Barrel discusses supply chain issues on its website on Sept. 19.

Crate & Barrel discusses supply chain issues on its website on Sept. 19.

L.L. Bean dedicates a page on its site discussing its supply chain issues

L.L. Bean dedicates a page on its site discussing its supply chain issues as it relates to holiday shopping.

Some merchants are coupling their “shop early” message with discussions about their supply chain issues, such as unexpected and long delays in receiving goods from overseas. As many shoppers have experienced this already during the pandemic, they are listening to these messages. 40% of consumers said they plan to start their holiday shopping in October or before, according to a Digital Commerce 360/Bizrate Insights September 2021 consumer survey of 938 online holiday shoppers. Plus, an additional 28% said they plan to start in early November.

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Typically, Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving at the end of November—is the official kickoff to the holiday season in the U.S. While holiday marketing always seems to start earlier every year, last year that rang true even more.

The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 shook up online shopping throughout the year, greatly impacting the holiday season. A larger contributor to that was  Amazon.com Inc. moving its annual Prime Day sale from June—when it was still grappling with surges in shopping and shipping essential items—to October.

Merchants often offer competing sales during Prime Day to capitalized on more consumers shopping online, and 2020 was no different. Because the 2020 sales event was in October, however, a Digital Commerce 360 analysis found those competing sales were holiday-focused. On the first day of Amazon’s Prime Day sale, Oct. 13, 2020, nearly a quarter—24%—of the top 100 online retailers ranked in the Top 1000 promoted holiday shopping on their sites, according to an analysis of data collected by Digital Commerce 360 researchers.

While Prime Day returned to its typical June time slot in 2021, merchants still seem to be eager to market the holidays in October this year. In fact, in a Digital Commerce 360 analysis of the top 100 retailers in 2021 on Oct. 15, 2021, 33 retailers in the top 100 promoted holiday shopping on their homepage.

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Merchants are promoting the holidays early for several reasons, including wanting to compete with the other early birds to get their share of sales and an effort to encourage shoppers to shop early to avoid overcrowded stores and shipping delays, says Chris Jones, co-founder and managing partner at digital marketing firm Markacy.

“Black Friday as a singular sales day is dissipating, and retailers are spreading out promotions throughout the calendar year,” Jones says. “This is a trend we expect to continue as brands seek to take advantage of an elongated increase in consumer demand/overall lift in ecommerce conversion rate throughout the broader part of Q4.”

Thanksgiving store closures

Another holiday shopping trend from 2020 that is holding on for 2021 is retailers closing their stores on Thanksgiving Day. Target led the pack this year when it announced in January 2021 that like 2020, it would close its stores on Thanksgiving Day in 2021. Sporting goods chain REI, however, has always had this policy and boycotts Black Friday. The merchant has its stores closed on Black Friday and its website will not process ecommerce orders. Instead, it pays its employees while encouraging them and consumers to spend time outside and “think more deliberately about their consumption habits.”

So far in 2021, the following retailers have announced they are closed on Thanksgiving:

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