A Brief History of Holiday Shopping

A Brief History of Holiday Shopping

1) Retailers may be decorating their stores earlier because they want shoppers to notice their selection earlier rather than later in December. 2) Companies use decorations as a way to lure customers into spending during what is traditionally a slower season at retail shops. 3) During WWI, holiday decorations became popular on store shelves as a way to boost morale among American citizens on behalf of US troops overseas. 4) Holiday decorations first became mainstream in Victorian England where streets were lit up by gas lamps. 

For centuries, people celebrated holidays at home by giving gifts and cooking festive dishes - until an increased interest in mobility led Americans out of their homes and into retail stores during the Industrial Revolution.

Holiday Shopping Get So Commercialized

What Used to be a Friendly Gift Exchange Has Become A Fight for Sales. On Black Friday, Christmas Eve, and even Halloween, people flood stores on their quest to get a good deal on gifts that they’ll probably just return anyways. The holiday season used to be a time for sharing with loved ones. Today it is just another excuse for consumerism. It has turned family traditions into credit card debt and brand loyalty into consumerism. While some argue that shoppers wouldn’t buy things if there weren’t sales, advertisers know that people will spend money if they are given an excuse to do so.

What People Don't Shop Locally Anymore

Many people don't shop locally anymore, but that wasn't always how things were. Local shopping used to be normal and became increasingly less common over time as retail chains rose to power and spread across the country. This was partly driven by technological advances—the rise of cars made going to places farther away more convenient—but it also happened because people wanted a wider variety of options than their local stores could provide. We’re now at a point where shopping locally is becoming trendy again and it's actually possible for merchants to thrive in today's ultra-competitive landscape with personalized service and smart merchandising strategies.

What People Spend Less On Gifts

Did you know that Americans spend less money on gifts today than they did 100 years ago? It's true. At its peak in 1920, total retail spending during December totaled $6.9 billion—which was equal to $98 billion in 2014 dollars (inflation-adjusted). During last year's holiday season, however, total holiday sales were just a third of that amount: $262 billion. Given these data points, it would seem strange that shoppers are spending more time and money on shopping today. How is it possible to spend less and still shop more?

Creating Special Traditions In Our Own Families

It can be easy to fall into a familiar cycle when it comes to holiday shopping. Year after year, we go to our local mall or big box store and hit up our usual suspects, following similar lists and stocking up on gifts that our friends and family have asked for. And while it’s important to give gifts that your loved ones really want, you don’t have to be a slave to habit; there are plenty of ways to mix things up and create special traditions in your own families.


Until relatively recently, most holiday shoppers spent their time and money supporting local businesses by shopping at Christmas Markets or visiting a department store downtown. Today, that’s changed dramatically; for many, shopping local means popping down to your closest outlet mall and picking up deals on mass-produced products manufactured in China. But why is it like that? What caused holiday shopping to become so commercialized? Well, as you might have guessed from today’s lesson on holiday shopping history, it was caused by a gradual shift away from small-scale localized production and toward large-scale standardized business models.



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