TORONTO — Christmas is still months away but 'tis already the season for several retailers stocking holiday merchandise — a move that is surprising and rankling some consumers. Leonard Cloutier recently tweeted a photo of a curtained-off aisle inside a Canadian Tire store with a Christmas-themed sign stating "Elves at Work." The date was Sept. 25 — exactly three months before Christmas. "I'd rather they wait till Halloween is done," said the Toronto resident. "Nov. 1, I'm fine, but let's get Halloween out of the way first. I don't like the overlapping, I really and truly don't." In its defence, Canadian Tire cited consumer demand as the reason it begins selling Christmas merchandise in mid-October (and sometimes sooner). "Customers want to begin their Christmas shopping and decorating well in advance of the holiday season," the company said in an emailed statement. Walmart Canada already has festive items including Christmas trees and inflatable characters available for sale in-store and online. Christmas decor is also on display at Hudson's Bay Co.'s Queen Street location in downtown Toronto. Neither retailer immediately responded to requests for comment. Costco Canada has been selling Christmas merchandise since July, said spokesman Ron Damiani. And it does sell in the summertime. "The philosophy is first in, first out. That's why we're in early," Damiani said. "This is not an experiment. We've been doing it since Day 1. And if we've kept on doing it for the 25 years that we've been in Canada it's because consumers responded well to it. There's no retailer that's going to put merchandise on the sales floor that they don't expect to sell." Seeing seasonal inventory surface months ahead of time isn't strictly a Christmas retail phenomenon. Vancouver resident Chris Yli-Luoma recalled seeing Halloween chips in grocery stores back in August. "Psychologically, it unnerves me," she said. "It kind of sets you off your natural rhythm of how your life goes. "The other frustrating part, of course, is when you're getting closer to the actual holiday ... and you're looking for a particular item and it's like: 'Oh, they're already sold out,'" she added. Michael Mulvey of the University of Ottawa said it was historically rare to find any holiday items in stores prior to Halloween and it appears retailers are experimenting with extending the Christmas-shopping season. "It seems it's starting to encroach earlier and earlier which, to me, is a bit surprising," said Mulvey, assistant professor of marketing in the university's Telfer School of Management. "For a while, it seemed like Halloween was building up and holding its own and owning the aisles in the seasonal sections of these stores. But I really do think it's early for Christmas." Marketing analyst Brynn Winegard of Winegard & Company said it's been a flat year for retailers and one that's posed several challenges, including the low loonie and volatility in the market with the departure of Target. There's even more incentive for retailers to try to gain ground before year's end, Winegard said, especially with up to 60 per cent of their annual revenue amassed in the last quarter. Even for customers who may be irked by earlier-than-normal sightings of holiday merchandise, Winegard said "cutting through the clutter and getting people to comment at all is half the battle." "Even though you might be likely to have some people a little peeved or a little irritated by it, the truth is if they've noticed, you've won," she said. Cloutier said he understands why some retailers have opted to make the seasonal transition early. "Merchandising and retail sales, it's a war. There's a lot of competition out there and the early bird gets the worm, right? "I don't think it hurts us in any way. If anything, we probably benefit by it." Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.
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