Christmas music in stores: When is it too early?

Christmas music in stores is something many shoppers expect to hear in the weeks ahead, but some don't want a note of it before Remembrance Day, and they're vocal about it.

And when do Canadian retailers intend to press play on their holiday playlists?

Most people don't expect to hear Christmas music ahead of Halloween. But how soon that should be is up for debate. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Rhonda Scharf got straight to her point.

"I think it should be illegal to have Christmas music in stores before Halloween! Who will sign my petition?" Scharf tweeted last week, after hearing holiday tunes at a Bed Bath & Beyond in Florida.

Scharf was joking about the petition, but the motivational speaker from Ottawa said she quickly found many like-minded sympathizers on social media when addressing the perceived seasonal creep of Christmas music.

"Pretty much everybody agreed it's way too early," she told CBC News in a recent telephone interview.

But with the time for purchasing pumpkins now behind us, the time for picking up presents approaches.

And that means consumers are going to be hearing Christmas music sooner or later, at some point between now and Dec. 25.

How soon they will hear familiar holiday tunes is something retailers must carefully decide, given the cultural backlash that exists against playing such music "too early."

CBC News reached out to some of the country's largest retailers, in a bid to determine if they had a policy on when Christmas music is played in their stores.

From what these businesses say, Canadian shoppers can expect to begin hearing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other seasonal selections by the middle of this month.

It won't be long in most cases

These songs could start playing anywhere — at the mall, inside a department store or when picking up groceries or a prescription.

At Shoppers Drug Mart, you won't be hearing any Christmas music until Dec. 1, said spokeswoman Tammy Smitham. It will make up half the music played in its stores "ramping up to 100 per cent Christmas music mid-month," she said in an email.

Two years ago, Shoppers decided to halt the playing of Christmas music in November after customers complained. At that time, the drugstore chain said that it took customer feedback to heart, saying "it does lead to change."

Well before the snow hits the ground, consumers will see Christmas trees and other seasonal merchandise for sale. But the early arrival of holiday music in stores has been a controversial issue in recent years. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

Allison Johnson, an assistant professor at Western University's Ivey Business School, said it's important for retailers to listen to their customers. Because if they don't, there can be consequences — like bad word of mouth and worse.

"If a customer feels disrespected it can ruin their relationship with a retailer," Johnson told CBC News in an email.

There's no policy in place at Metro Ontario grocery stores, according to spokeswoman Jocelyne Martineau. But customers can expect to hear Christmas music after Nov. 15, when its in-store holiday campaign officially begins.

At Dollarama, there's no policy on Christmas music either, said spokeswoman Lyla Radmanovich. She said local radio is generally played in its 900-plus Canadian stores, though there are some exceptions.

Loblaw, which recently acquired Shoppers Drug Mart, was more guarded about the issue. When contacted by CBC News, it declined to comment.

Staples starts its "official holiday kickoff" on Wednesday, according to spokeswoman Madalina Secareanu, so shoppers shouldn't expect to hear Christmas music until after that point.

For some retailers with franchise owners or operators, these decisions are made on a store-by-store basis.

That's the case at Home Hardware, where spokeswoman Jessica Kuepfer told CBC News that some stores may begin playing Christmas music this month, while others may "decide to forgo it entirely."

Ditto for Canadian Tire stores, where individual dealers make up their own mind as to "when it is appropriate to begin playing Christmas music," said spokeswoman Erin Suffrin.

"Some will start in November, once Christmas stock becomes available. However, many won’t begin playing Christmas music until Dec. 1."

Remembrance Day a factor

At Home Depot, the general policy is to hold off playing holiday music until the third week of November.

Emily DiCarlo, the media relations co-ordinator for the hardware store chain, said this decision has been made "out of respect" for Remembrance Day.

"The Home Depot Canada is proud of the many associates and customers who defend our country every day, and we feel focus should remain on remembering the men and women who have served our country," DiCarlo said in an email.

The Royal Canadian Legion says it simply hopes that retailers make sure they do what is expected on Nov. 11.

"As long as they do the 11th appropriately, what more can you ask?" said Bill Maxwell, the secretary of the legion’s poppy and remembrance committee.

The holiday music won't start until after Nov. 11 at Indigo Books & Music stores, either.

"There's no formal policy regarding our programming, but we are respectful of the solemn occasion that is Remembrance Day," said Janet Eger, the vice-president of public affairs at Indigo.

After that, they increase the proportion of holiday selections playing for customers week by week.

That seems to square with what consumers like Scharf expect to happen.

"I will tolerate it after Nov. 11," she said.

Hudson's Bay spokeswoman Michelle Veilleux said the company's department stores will play one-quarter Christmas music as of Nov. 11, jumping to 50 per cent two weeks later and finally 80 per cent as of Dec. 2.

One place shoppers won't likely be hearing any Christmas carols is at Target. That's because the company does not typically play any music in its stores.

"It is our goal and commitment to ensure our guests have a distraction-free shopping experience," spokeswoman Emily Vear said in an email.