Sorry Virginia, Your Christmas Tree Will Be More Expensive This Year

December 2, 2019, 9:41 PM UTC
A worker pulls a freshly cut Christmas tree on a cart at Mr. Tree Farm in Blacklick, Ohio, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Natural Christmas trees still outsell artificial ones, but their share of U.S. annual sales has dropped from 77% in 2010 to 56% last year. Photographer: Maddie McGarvey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Maddie McGarvey—Bloomberg via Getty Images

If a real tree is on your list of things to buy to get ready for Christmas, you might want to reserve some of the money you saved on purchases during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Christmas trees are going to be more expensive for Christmas 2019.

The data team at Square analyzed “tens of thousands” of purchases made through the company’s payment systems at Christmas tree farms around the U.S. They found that the price of Christmas trees rose 5% in 2018—or roughly $3—when compared with 2017 prices. The industry is poised to see a similar increase this year, says Tim O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association.

Turns out you can blame the 2007-2009 recession for the price hike. During the late 1990s and early aughts there was a surplus of trees, so prices fell. But during the recession, growers planted less trees. Those trees, now fully mature, are the ones heading to living rooms around the United States this year.

“[S]upply is more in line with demand and demand is growing,” O’Connor says. “So there are buyers competing to purchase trees, and that’s pushing prices up a bit.”

Michael May, owner of Lazy Acres Farm in Chunky, Miss., raised his prices by $10 to $12 per tree last year, “just because we saw what was happening to the market around us,” he says. “I really expected a little pushback but I didn’t hear a single word about price. I was really surprised.” He said his smaller trees are now priced around $45, where previously they were $35, which is still well below the national average.

For those looking to save on a Christmas tree, timing makes a difference. The most popular time to buy a tree is the first week of December, but waiting can pay off. On Black Friday last year, the average price was $79.11, while Cyber Monday was the most expensive day of the season to buy a tree, at an average of $83.92. The best day? Christmas Eve, when trees average $50.34.

Of course, that means you could end up with a tree that leans more Charlie Brown Christmas tree than that of the annual Rockefeller Center behemoth.

A still from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives

Or, worse, nothing at all.

“Typically within the first four days, we will sell about 50% of the trees we have available for sale,” May says. “That first week is a very busy four days for us. We will sell out or get ready to shut down around the 15th of December.” But wait—what about the last-minute tree shoppers? At May’s farm, you snooze, you lose.

From a business perspective, it makes sense to stop selling trees mid-month. “Typically people want to come to the farm and find a deal when they’re getting that close to Christmas,” May said. “And for us, as choose-and-cut growers, once we sell out of that field, it doesn’t make sense to stay open, because there are so few customers that come and they all want a discount.” Whatever he doesn’t sell, he saves for next year. “If that tree stays in the field an additional year, it’s going to be worth more money to us next year because it’ll be a premium tree, filled in, and a foot to two feet taller.”

Millennials take heat for lots of things these days but one idea that they might be ok with is that they’re the generation driving Christmas tree sales thanks to their beliefs about conscious consumerism. “I think a lot more millennials are coming back to the farm and making that purchase that is environmentally the better choice, and they’re looking for that experience,” he says.

O’Connor agrees. “What we’re seeing with younger adults today is if you look at the trends they’re driving, the growth in organic foods, their desire to have authentic goods, have experiences to post and share those experiences, to make purchases and lifestyle decisions that benefit the environment. A real Christmas tree lines up extremely well with that,” he said.

It doesn’t hurt that Christmas tree shopping make for a good Instagram photo. “That,” says O’Connor, “becomes a very social media-friendly sharable moment.”

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