deck the Malls with pots of money

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SO here it is: Merry Christmas everyone! Hope Santa is good to you and don’t eat too much turkey . . .Oh dear. What’s that I hear you say? Did you just point out that we’re still three months away from the fun-filled festive blitz? Would you prefer to stick pins in your eyes and stuff tinsel up your nose, than be reminded of the financial hell that is looming? Well sorry to have to inform you dear readers but Christmas 2011 has, in fact, arrived.

Granted it is slightly – no, incredibly – early, but from now until December 25 we have officially entered Christmas mode. So feel free to crank up the carols, deck the halls and dig out the inflatable Santa from the loft at any stage from now onwards.

We know all this because Tesco is already stocking festive mince pies –in shops now, and yes, you’re correct, it is still September – while there’s a whisper amid retail circles that the supermarket giant is days away from hitting us with its full Christmas blitz, possibly as early as Monday.

It’s hardly alone. Rival Morrisons has cleared aisles to stock shelves with festive goodies, while the nation’s leading toy retailer, Argos, has already unveiled its suggestions for 2011 Christmas toys – top present for the boys is a Dr Who Dalek Ride-In, a snip at £199.

Meanwhile, mail order catalogues’ festive editions are thumping through the letterboxes of customers who are still dreaming of a late-summer barbecue, and bars and restaurants are advertising Christmas party nights and festive menus.

And as incontestable proof that the most wonderful time of the year is looming large – for the retail industry if not for hard-up shoppers still trying to pay last winter’s gas bills – Jenners has already cornered off part of its second floor to sell Christmas decorations.

All this before the clocks have even changed. Heavens, parents haven’t even had the joy of enduring the increasingly money-sapping experience of Hallowe’en yet.

So how on Earth is it that we are staring into the gun barrel of financial oblivion that is Christmas so soon?

The Scottish Retail Consortium’s Richard Dodd claims we shouldn’t complain too much – after all, stores are simply responding to consumer demand. “Some say it’s all happening too early, but stores would only ever do this because there is the demand from customers,” he says. “Store space is a rare and expensive commodity. Shops put Christmas goods out in August and September and if no-one bought them, then they’d stop it.”

Some retail giants have responded to the “too much too soon” moans by suggesting they’re merely offering customers a friendly option to spread the cost of their festive shopping bill over a longer than normal period.

But Stirling University Professor of Retail Studies, Leigh Sparks, suggests there may be a degree of self-interest at stake too: “Shops may be pulling Christmas forward in the hope that people end up spending more.

“They don’t want to return to the credit crunch years of 2008-9 when they suffered a really bad Christmas. They didn’t predict consumer spending would fall off a cliff and they had waves of products ordered which was difficult to turn off.”

But while it can be galling to see mince pies and tinsel in September, Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, says the shops are simply getting organised. “The festive period and the run-up to it is vitally important for retailers,” he says. “It is also really important to consumers, and we are increasingly seeing people looking to spread the cost of their Christmas shopping over a few months. While it may seem early, in reality we are almost into October and it can help people to plan their expenditure more.”

Never mind when the Christmas shopping frenzy starts. For Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce spokesman Graham Birse, what’s more important is where we do it. “My advice is enjoy Christmas shopping, go to the city centre shops, enjoy the atmosphere, and give local retailers who have had so many difficulties with tram works, a boost.”

sdick@edinburghnews.com