Last year, after walking past aisle after aisle of shelves crammed with toys, Tony Tindall and his wife spent $300 on Christmas presents for their two boys — toys that went forgotten by February.
The Tindalls aren’t going shopping this year.
They bought an Amazon Prime membership, which includes free shipping with the online retailer, and set a firm budget of $160. They plan to sit down as a family, choose the gifts they’ll place into a virtual cart and review their order together before they hit “checkout.” They’re also ordering the groceries for their holiday meal online.
“Time is precious,” said Tindall, “especially around the holidays.”
Overflowing parking lots and long checkout lines go with the holidays like tinsel and candy canes. But in this internet golden age, a burgeoning number of shoppers are avoiding the headache that comes with the revelry.
While gifts have long been available online, the convenience of a click is bringing every facet of the holidays to your front door. Restaurant-cooked meals, perfectly portioned groceries, even Christmas trees and having them trimmed can be ordered online, saving people from the brick-and-mortar nightmare that a jam-packed mall store can be.
While tech-savvy shoppers may be forgoing cherished traditions, such as sitting on the mall Santa’s lap or cutting down their own tree, they’re saving something in return: time. (Love to shop in stores? Read more about that argument here.)
And although home delivery can come at a premium, some shoppers say they also are saving money.
The Tindalls, of St. Michael, Minn., are betting that shopping online will help them cut back on impulse buys.
When out shopping, Tony Tindall said, “we’re much more likely to exceed our budget because we tangibly see something the boys might love. The purchase is not on our list, but we can touch and see the item and develop some emotional attachment.”
Comparison shopper Doug Huberty, 73, of Elk River, Min., said making his purchases online is “far superior in just about every way.” He compares prices, reads reviews and has everything shipped for free.
Emily Bryan, of Eden Prairie, typically looks for promo codes to save on clothes, shoes and home goods online. On Black Friday and Cyber Monday, she finds even better deals on gifts, which she then has shipped out of state to her sister.
“Online shopping is the best for the holidays because the stores are a mess,” said Bryan, 29.
Selling the experience
Even when home delivery comes with a higher price tag, many shoppers are willing to pay for the convenience.
In the five years that Bachman’s has been selling Christmas trees online for home delivery, the floral company has seen a marked increase in requests for deliveries, spokeswoman Karen Bachman Thull said.
“People have this desire for it to be easy for them to decorate for the holidays,” she said.
A 6- to 9-foot Fraser fir starts at $80. Assembly and placement in the home can run $129. And, for those who want to outsource their tree entirely, trimming starts at $100 an hour.
“I think people are trying to maximize the most of their time but hold onto those traditions and memories we hold dear,” Thull said.
Dawn Ogren, of Stillwater, has been buying her tree online from Utah-based Five Star Christmas Trees for the past four years. The company ships her a Fraser fir, bound in mesh, from a North Carolina tree farm.
Ogren, 53, and her husband started ordering their tree after her four children left home.
“It used to be a family thing, but it’s just the two of us now,” she said. “I think this is the next evolution for me.”
This year, Susan McGreevy ordered a meal kit from Local Crate, a Minnesota-based food delivery service, for the Thanksgiving meal she hosted at her home in Plymouth. She’s thinking about trying it for Christmas, as well.
“I won’t miss making a long list of ingredients from recipes, and then going to a crowded Lunds, and standing in line, and buying everything, and storing it in the refrigerator,” she said.
The Christmas box comes with a Minnesota-sourced ham, and all the ingredients for sides of asparagus and sunchokes. Also included are a pre-baked pie and dinner rolls. The kit costs $125 for eight to 10 servings.
Home cooks follow the instructions on included recipe cards, and use the pre-portioned ingredients to prepare the feast. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of a spice, there’s no need to buy a whole bottle, as everything is in the box.
“Our customers are able to make a full spread to impress their family and friends that maybe Grandma was making,” said Frank Jackman, one of two former Schwan’s executives who launched Local Crate.
An extravagant holiday meal planned, organized and measured out in a box that lands on people’s porches just might not be how Grandma imagined it, but it’s what many people want.
“We’re able to provide an experience now,” Jackman said. “That’s what people are looking for.”