The lights are twinkling all over town and brightly decorated trees can be seen through neighbourhood windows — Christmas is finally here.
And as much as everyone wants it to be the season of peace and joy it is also the season of frantic shopping, stress and overspending.
It feels like the period leading up to Christmas is a life-and-death situation for retailers.
And while there is no denying that much gets bought at this time of year, in a small town like Whistler, what has long been embraced and understood by local operators is that if you don't look after all your customers all year, including residents, it's unlikely a business will survive in the long term, especially a locally owned one.
Still, there is no denying that this time of year can really boost the bottom line of any business. It was somewhat surprising then to learn that an analysis of sales data by Quartz shows that Australians outstrip us all when it comes to spending at Christmas. They cast off the fetters of sensible spending and blow 35.5 per cent more of their money in December than in any average month in the year.
Next on the list is Switzerland at 32.8, then Italy.
Canadians spend 18.2 per cent more in December, and the U.S., despite the stereotypes we might harbour after watching coverage of the Black Friday sales, beats us by only by 0.1 per cent.
According to the 2013 BMO Holiday Spending Outlook holiday spending is projected to continue its climb for a third straight year. In its report last week it said Canadians are expected to spend an average of $1,810 this holiday season — up from $1,610 (12 per cent) in 2012 and $1,397 (30 per cent) in 2011. The biggest uptick in spending is attributed to travel, which has increased by 22 per cent compared to a year ago, and nearly doubled since 2011.
Good news for Whistler, one might hope.
The report goes on to suggest that Canadians will spend $689 each on trips, $678 on gifts and $282 on entertaining.
That's a significant amount to inject into the economy. Imagine how that could help support local businesses right here at home?
According to organizers of Buy Local Week, which ran Dec.2 to 8, a one per cent increase in B.C. consumer spending creates 3,100 jobs and $94 million in annual wages for B.C. workers — good reasons not to cross the border to shop for those Christmas goodies.
There aren't clear statistics for Canada about hyper-local shopping but a U.S. initiative called the 3/50 Project estimates that for every $100 spent at locally owned independent stores about $68 goes back into the community in taxes, wages and other expenditures. Shopping at a national chain returns $43 to community, and shopping online returns nothing to the community.
The logic that when you spend locally you are investing in your own community is undeniable. Of course, it's not always possible to get everything you need in your "backyard" but it's worth taking the time to consider where you spend your money, as the impact can be substantial.
It might even reduce holiday stress. Is that even possible?
The Telegraph newspaper out of the U.K. reports that research has shown that our primal "fight or flight" mechanisms are now being triggered during holiday shopping because of the massive crowds we find ourselves being forced to navigate as we struggle to find that "perfect" gift. And the quest for perfection is making most of us feel inadequate or guilty.
"Festive cheer all too easily gives way to seasonal shopping stress," Dr. David Lewis, of MindLab International, told The Telegraph.
"The presence of other people is a major factor. Other people present a great threat and strangers are more of a threat.
"You can begin to see people who are moving more slowly than you, such as an elderly person, as the enemy. It leads to shopping rage.
"Your heart rate begins to go up as you try to push through the crowd. There will be an increase in sweating. You might start producing more of the stress hormone cortisol.
"This will encourage aggressive behaviour but also when people are distressed that are going to try and get away. People will abandon a full trolley because they can't face being in the shop a moment longer."
And, for good measure, Lewis found that residents of small towns are far more susceptible to this response when they head to metropolitan centres to pick up gifts.
Just another reason to shop at home for the holidays!