NEW YORK—There’s just over a week until Halloween, and Americans are probably preoccupied with thoughts about exactly that: how much candy will this year’s trick or treaters need? Are the kids’ costumes ready to go? What scary movie should we queue up for the 31st, to watch in between doorbell rings? The scariest night of the year is looming. But something else, something that might be equally as scary, is fast approaching too: the holiday retail season.

In fact, many retailers start their holiday deals in October, even before Halloween—if you’ve stepped foot in a Target, Walmart, Home Goods or other big box store recently you’ve probably noticed exactly that. The trees are already out, and so are the deals. Starting early is generally good for everyone, the National Retail Federation (NRF) says: consumers want to shop early, retailers want to sell early and the supply chain requires us to think ahead.

In fact, the NRF reports that “44 percent of holiday shoppers say it’s better to purchase gifts and other seasonal items now because they believe inflation will continue to impact prices later in the year. Another 31 percent of shoppers believe it’s best to purchase items now because the deals won’t get any better.”

On the retailer side, moving the holiday shopping season up can help avoid major supply chain meltdowns. The NRF said, “Many retailers decided to move up their holiday shipping season and brought products in earlier than normal to ensure they would have products available for consumers.” This explains why you might have been seeing Christmas trees in Costco back in August.

When it comes to traditional shopping days, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, things are changing there, too. The NRF reports that consumer behaviors have shifted in the past few years, and many people prefer to spread their spending out over many months rather than cramming it all into a few days.

This has resulted in retailers spreading out holiday or Black Friday deals (think Amazon Prime Day), shortening hours on holidays themselves and, for many, closing on Thanksgiving Day rather than starting sales in the evening on Thursday. Still, the NRF reported, “According to a September 2022 poll conducted by NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics, 45 percent of holiday shoppers say they are likely to browse and buy in stores on Black Friday this year.”

And what about inflation? Apparently, people want to spend money for the holidays. A September survey from the NRF reported that “62 percent of holiday shoppers agree that it is important to spend on holiday gifts and celebrations,” and that some will cut back on other expenses so they can spend for the holidays. But with the rising cost of living, how much people spend will change. The NRF said “That 43 percent of consumers say they don’t earn enough to cover the costs of gifts and other holiday items this year. These shoppers are looking for other ways to supplement their income, including dipping into savings (40 percent), taking on credit card debt (32 percent), using services like buy now, pay later (25 percent) and selling assets (22 percent).” Shoppers will also be looking for deals, with 58 percent of those surveyed saying that sales are more important to them this year than last year.

Forbes reports that “holiday gift spending is expected to drop by $30 billion as 58 percent of consumers cut back on non-food spending during the holidays,” in the U.S. The biggest drop may come in the clothing and footwear categories.

With people potentially buying less and spreading out their shopping, the shopping experience is increasingly important. Forbes reports, “When given the choice of how to communicate with a brand, a TCN consumer survey found the majority of customers chose speaking to a live agent, followed closely by online chatting with a live agent.” Shoppers want a memorable, personal experience when shopping both in-store and online—a trend that gives small businesses a unique benefit.

So what does it all mean for retailers? It means being flexible, creating experiences and meeting the customer where they are. Forbes writes, “Brands need to be flexible to change their approach to match customers’ needs. This year is less about high-ticket, flashy items and more about providing a great experience on the essentials and turning everyday items special. In the growing experience economy, it’s about creating an experience around the product, not necessarily the product itself.”

This is the same sentiment that retail strategist and experiential designer Melissa Gonzalez, founder of the Lion’esque Group and principal at MG2, posited at the 2021 Vision Monday Global Leadership Summit. Gonzalez said, “it has never been so important for the store to really serve as a point to build human connection and to build customer loyalty… It’s always about putting the consumer first.”