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 August 6-7, 2024 | Rosemont, Illinois

2021 Holiday Season Overview

Experts are predicting the strongest holiday in memory, and consumers are expected to head into stores to avoid late-shipment woes. Make sure you're stocking deep to offset the risks of supply chain problems.

“Stocking” is the operative word this holiday season, but not the one you hang over the fireplace. With supply chain issues leading to shortages, many consumers, worried that the items on their wish lists will be out of stock, have already started their holiday shopping. Despite these problems, experts are expecting the strongest holiday sales in history, so now is the time to start stocking up if you haven’t done so already. Experts also predict that these numbers won’t continue into 2022, making strong holiday sales that much more important. Beyond traditional holiday sellers such as poinsettias and decorations, how can garden centers make the most of this holiday season?

Expected Sellers
The National Retail Federation forecasts an 8.5% to 10.5% growth in holiday sales over 2020. Household income is increasing, and with it comes increased spending. Online sales are set to increase by up to 15%, but shoppers will be returning to brick-and-mortar stores, as well. According to a Bluedot survey, 90% of respondents plan to use mobile apps, with 27% of respondents saying they will use an app to check store inventory. Curbside pickup will remain an important option for shoppers. 79% say they plan to avoid lines and wait times by ordering online and picking up their purchase at the store.

Poinsettias will, as usual, be a popular holiday item. New breeding techniques have resulted in a wider range of available colors, from orange to green to white. This abundance of new varieties could make the poinsettia more than a Christmas plant. White poinsettias, for instance, are being marketed as a New Year’s gift. But since they are so widely available for low prices at big-box stores, independent garden centers will have to offer something extra, whether it’s a better quality plant or a more attractive container.

Aside from dressing up the poinsettia, another option is to market alternative holiday plants. Amaryllis bulbs have been steadily growing in popularity in the US as a holiday flower, and waxed bulbs make for an interesting and unique centerpiece to decorate around. As houseplants remain popular, varieties that are easy to care for can be marketed as holiday gifts. Succulents in particular are a great gift for a beginner. Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti, which flower throughout the length of the holiday season at normal indoor temperatures and under indirect light, are another fun alternative to the traditional poinsettia.

In addition to houseplants, gardening is experiencing a new wave of interest, with 18 million new gardeners taking up the hobby in 2021. The challenge for garden centers will be to turn those new hobbyists into lifelong customers. Indoor herb gardens can be great gift suggestions to keep them interested throughout the winter, while growing kits will have them looking forward to spring.

Creating New Traditions and Reviving Old Ones
One of the challenges of this holiday season will be dealing with a possible Christmas tree shortage brought on by extreme weather conditions, underplanting, and those ubiquitous supply chain issues. Business owners have reported smaller orders made available by farms, but the National Christmas Tree Association claims that while supplies will be tight, there will be no shortage. Either way, consumer perception outweighs facts, and retailers could very well find themselves running low on Christmas trees earlier in the season, while some shoppers might hear the news and seek out alternatives.

This challenge, real or perceived, can become an opportunity for garden centers to offer something new and different from the traditional Christmas tree, something that only they can provide. As consumers become more invested in sustainability and personalization, the traditional Christmas tree—farmed, cut down, and discarded—may seem less attractive. Rosemary, Norfolk Island pine, and many varieties of cypress look great decorated, fit into a smaller space, and can be kept year-round. Areca palms, weeping figs, and avocado, lemon, and orange trees present an interesting option for someone looking for something a little different.

Garden centers should consider marketing these plants as alternative Christmas trees for consumers looking to create new traditions or hold smaller, low-key celebrations. At the same time, other consumers will be desperate for a return to normalcy, symbolized by a very traditional Christmas: poinsettias, wreaths, lanterns, mistletoe, and a classic pinecones-and-candles centerpiece.

The holiday shopping rush is starting early this year, so be prepared! This might be your last chance to get your orders in and make sure you’ll have everything you need to keep your customers happy.