Christmas Light Shortage Sweeps The Nation

Maybe there is no such thing as Christmas retreat. Maybe there’s just a light shortage. News outlets across the country have reported on a shortage of strings of lights. Somewhere, Clark Griswold weeps.

Consumerist readers everywhere, from Los Angeles to Chicago to Pittsburgh, have written in about their own searches for lights. The shortage hasn’t escaped the notice of national chains like Home Depot.

“It seems people want to get out there and be festive and decorate for the holidays,” said Home Depot spokeswoman Jen King. The popularity of the LED lights also have prompted additional interest in holiday decorating.

Are retailers over-cautious with their inventory in a recession, or have stores simply sold out of the lights that they put out on shelves back in September?

Stores Selling Out Of Lights This Holiday Season [KDKA] (Thanks, Karla!)
Christmas lights in short supply on suburban shelves [Daily Herald]

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  1. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I like how we still don’t have any answers from any manufacturers as to whether it’s because of less inventory, or because more people are buying lights. Lights are somewhat recession proof in that you can get a big pack of lights for $10 if you’re really looking to save, and less than $20 if you aren’t. I can’t imagine a lot of people would go without lights at all in order to save money, but if they scale back, I can see them not buying nearly as much.

    Then again, maybe more people are buying lights after all – they’re a relatively cheap way of making an old Christmas tree look better, and that’s important this year if families want to make their holidays more cheerful but can’t buy a new tree to replace the beaten up old one.

    I’d like to know about sales of real and fake Christmas trees – are more people buying them this year, or fewer? Pre-lit vs. unlit?

    • ahleeeshah says:

      I got a six and a half foot pre-lit fake one for all of $35 at Wal-mart this year. My first tree that belongs to me. Hoorah!

      • Derv says:

        Got the same one! Roommates cat likes to sleep in it though.

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          I’ve heard of cats toppling Christmas trees, haha. I wonder how they actually sleep in it though – it doesn’t seem like the fake branches could support them.

          I got mine for a lot more than $35 :( but I also bought it way early, cause I had a coupon. And I didn’t go to Wal-Mart. I’m sure that Christmas trees were marked down two weeks ago, but we had to get our tree early because we were going to be way too busy to get one later.

          • OletheaEurystheus says:

            oh my cat LOVES to play and sleep in mine. He knows just how to position himself in the branches to balance himself. REALLY annoying having to reach in and pull him out.

            IF I wasn’t moving in a month I’d buy him one of those tall perches since it seems he loves high places even though he’s always been an indoor cat.

          • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

            surf “i can has cheezburger” for a few minutes this time of year and you’ll likely see some pics of cats sleeping in christmas trees.
            my friend took pics of her cat once sleeping diagonally across the fold down frames of the branches on an artificial tree. i’d share but i didn’t get copies

    • oloranya says:

      This is entirely anecdotal, but I’ve worked at Home Depot the last tow years and we sold a LOT more real tree’s this year than in previous years, yesterday we were down to four or five tiny, lopsided ones and I don’t believe we’re getting more.

      We also have plenty of lights left but that could be my working at a rather low-volume store.

  2. OletheaEurystheus says:

    went to target this week, almost NO lights left, and only a few trays of glass balls. And things are already marked down 30-60%

  3. katia802 says:

    I don’t do lights normally, but in Pgh, we definately are showing a shortage. Had one of my co workers ask me to stop in stores on the way home to find a string of lights for her. She lucked out at Home Depot and bought a demo set they had just taken down. Said it was the last string of lights in the store. Have noticed a lot of advertised sales of half off fake trees much too early this year too. Usually don’t see them 1/2 off till after the holiday.

  4. gfonner says:

    At the Target near my house in suburban Baltimore, there were plenty of lights.

    Speaking of the alleged Christmas retreat, our Toys R Us has put out Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day baby outfits.

  5. The hand that feeds, now with more bacon says:

    I bought mine in January for $0.50/strand.

  6. fatediesel says:

    I’ve been surprised by how little inventory my local Lowes and Home Depot had from the start. Both are large stores and their Christmas section was much smaller than usual. Home Depot had a tiny section and Lowes was larger but still only about 60% of the size of their display last year. I wonder if because of the economy retailers assumed Christmas decorations wouldn’t be selling as well so they stocked less.

    • Taliskan says:

      I noticed this too. The holiday decorations departments in a lot of stores this year have been smaller than recent previous years to my recollection. Additionally, most of the stores have had their holiday sections open since October, and a recent trip showed that most of these stores have already begun discounting their holiday stuff to almost-post-Christmas sale prices.

  7. soj4life says:

    Retailers did not order enough lights. Last season there was a huge glut of decorations that stores heavily discounted. When retailers finalized their orders for this year, they looked at how last year was and ordered accordingly. Stores are going to have less decorations in stock after Christmas they have to discount.

    There isn’t more people decorating this year, I think less are. When I look out over the rest of the condos where I love, less people have decorated their places.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      I’m so continually blinded by the Clark-Griswold-esque decor of my new across-the-street neighbor that I can’t even tell if more or fewer of my neighbors have decorated this year!

      We increased our decorations slightly … my husband’s the president of the neighborhood association and they had a Holiday Lights contest this year so he felt we needed to represent.

  8. reishka says:

    There’s plenty in my area – Walmart, Target, Home Depot, K-mart, and Big Lots have all kinds. LEDs, C7’s, LED C7’s, C9’s, G25’s — Big Lots even has G40’s (the very old-timey ball-type)! We went shopping about a week ago for trimming our tree, as it’s the first tree we’ve ever had and we didn’t have any decorations, and finding everything was fairly easy. The only thing that I’m disappointed about is that k-mart is apparently the only place that carries tinsel/icicles. None of the other stores knew what we were talking about when we asked.

  9. nffcnnr says:

    Just another win for the heathens in their annual War on Christmas®.
    Someone alert Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin.
    This is clearly the work of the liberal media in cahoots with the Obama administration to convert children into socialist Muslims.
    Why do they and Home Depot hate the baby Jesus?
    A march on Washington with 10,000, i mean, 2,000,000 Christian patriots should get some attention. Let’s roll!

    • INsano says:

      Why march on Washington, if they were true crusaders they’d march on Constantinople!

      That’s a delicious image…Fox Newscasters with a gaggle of Talibornagains approaching Istanbul screeching about LED light strands.

  10. Slave For Turtles says:

    I’ve noticed for the past few years that there are nearly no lights come mid December (and nearly none in early Dec) when I need them, so I’ve started buying them after Halloween as soon as I can find them. I feel so ashamed. :(

    If you want lights right now, go to drug stores. CVS had a nice selection when I checked yesterday, but their prices are so-so. Lowes, Home Depot, Target – zilch.

    And Jo-Ann’s had Valentine decorations in their front window.

  11. Bargaineering.com says:

    I bet retailers are just cutting back on inventory because they don’t want to have a ton of it left over. It’s probably a low margin item so there’s little upside benefit to having an ample supply.

    I don’t know if lights are recession proof, it seems that if I were to lose my job, I’d just make do with the lights i have (or none at all) rather than spend a few bucks on it.

    • Kitamura says:

      It’s not so much that there’s no margin on the item. It’s that any margin you had goes strait out the window when you have to start discounting your stock 60%-80% to get rid of it after the holiday season. In terms of retail, a store would rather have a bit less stock than they need and just run out than to end up with large surpluses of stock then end up being sold at a loss. After last year’s disastrous Christmas sales plunge from the recession and all the continued talk of belt tightening, it’s really not surprising that we’re seeing all sorts of supply chain shocks.

  12. tbax929 says:

    The reason there’s a shortage on lights is because every single one of my neighbors has a billion lights on their house. The neighborhood looks like it’s on fire at night. I’m not complaining, by the way. I’ve just never seen so many friggin’ houses lit up like I have this year.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I wonder whether it would help inner-city neighborhoods if people were able to put up more lights. I mean, it would make the streets brighter, and theoretically, wouldn’t that be safer?

  13. flyingember says:

    My parents are on a street which traditionally had 1/2 of the houses lit up. This year way less than 1/4 are.

    I’m betting there was low inventory on purpose. Lights use electricity. People want to save money or need to save on their bills. Christmas lights are a quick way to not spend money. Companies won’t spend money selling something optional if they end up with stock they can’t sell for a year.

    I wanted a set of rope lights for photography purposes (weird lighting for cheap). Expected to buy them after the holidays. Target had 4 boxes wide on one shelf on the 12th. They had 5 shelves at 10 wide two weeks before. I bet they already had every single set of light on the shelves before Dec 1.

    I bought it at 30% off and I was hoping to save more after Christmas

    and it’s not just lights. basic christmas ornament hooks were gone. there were a huge number of $1 decorations and low cost gifts in bulk that were very mixed up and a lot of higher cost products.

  14. sirwired says:

    What I can’t figure out is: why a light shortage? I was just at Target last night, and they had precisely one shelf-column of assorted lights left. Okay, I can buy the fact that most people have their trees decorated by now. However, they had thousands and thousands of generic ball ornaments left in every color of the rainbow. I can understand having plenty of “gifty” ornaments remaining, but the 12+ pack balls should have run out at around the same time as the lights.

    I have a funny feeling that there are going to be an awful lot of buyers trying to figure out what went wrong.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Because people usually save their ornaments year to year, people buy fewer brand new generic ball ornaments every year. If one breaks, no one notices, and no one will immediately run out to replace it. But if an entire strand of lights fails, people go out to replace it. We had two strands of lights fail this year, but none of our ornaments broke.

      • sirwired says:

        But why did the stores buy so many ornaments? People not buying new generic balls every year isn’t a new phenomenon. How could they have overestimated demand for ornaments, and badly underestimated that for lights? Maybe a Big Chinese Light Factory burned down? (or, more likely, the Big Chinese Light Factory got caught using lead and couldn’t export.)

  15. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    This is simply poor planning by stores. Their attempt to keep inventory down has had an unintentioned side affect – they lose money because there isn’t stock on hand to buy from them.

    It’s their own faults.

  16. Winteridge2 says:

    We kept all our lights when we downsized from a real tree. Ebay, here we come!

  17. BuddhaLite says:

    This is a GOOD thing. In a country where excess is the norm and people are used to buyings certain things ohhh like say Christmas lights after the holiday for a fraction of the original cost it’s actually good to see that manufacturers/retailers got their numbers right. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a national chain or a small business its a good thing when you start running out of stock a week before the said holiday.

  18. jcazz says:

    It’s actually been a big problem for people who do over-the-top decor this time of year. I was lucky, I had enough lights left from last year that I was okay, but a lot of folks have been scrambling just to find what they needed – and in some cases couldn’t.

    There is much rumbling and consternation among the hardcore Christmas decorators about this.

  19. Dutchess says:

    More people are staying home for the holidays so they’re decorating their homes. I almost ALWAYS travel for the holidays but this year I decided to stay home. I haven’t put up a christmas tree in about 5 or 6 years. So I went out and bought a bunch of new lights on black friday ($1 a string at HD!).

  20. mbz32190 says:

    I will never understand the people that go out and buy new decorations every year. Sure, people move to a bigger house, or replace dead light sets, but for most, there is no reason to buy new lights. Anyway, all the stores around me seem to still have lights. I haven’t been to a big box in a few weeks but the non-traditional places like drug stores and supermarkets still seem to be well-stocked.

  21. _hi_ says:

    Has anyone watched the Enron movie? Enron: The smartest guys in the room. They caused the blackouts in California and then raised prices and claimed it was an energy shortage.

    Now.. all I see everywhere… shortage on this, that and the other… and prices getting raised across the board… and I think to myself.. what a wonderful world.

  22. henrygates3 says:

    Our neighborhood has cut back on the Christmas lights. Not too many decorated houses out there. The LEDs are sometimes nice but more expensive. Sometimes it’s just easier to buy a whole new pack than try to figure out which bulb is burned out in the tangled mess of last year’s lights.

  23. Squeezer says:

    the light gnomes are stealing all of them

  24. Charmander says:

    Definite shortage here (Seattle). Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, K-mart, Fred Meyer…..

  25. Android8675 says:

    Dude, I thought it was just me. I went to home depot and a few other places about a week ago and there were NO LED lights on the shelves, and all the normal lights were white (no colored lights). I thought I had just shown up too late to the party.

    It’s OK, I have a ton of lights from last year, but I like to add 1-2 strings per year because damn if some of those LED strings don’t just look cool as hell! Bright, beautiful colors, neat patterns on the bulbs (since they don’t heat up you can do cool stuff with the housings), last a long time as long as the wires don’t go bad, and according to my “Kill-a-watt” monitor they cost much less for more light! Very cool.

  26. Verdant Pine Trees says:

    It’s an inventory thing. So far, I’ve been surprised that my customers are buying more than they did this time last year. You have to project into the future and people underestimated the desire for Christmas lights.

  27. pittstonjoma says:

    We sold most of ours.but I think overall Rite Aid had less Christmas selection than last year.

  28. kaceetheconsumer says:

    Actually, despite writing to you about a shortage at Target a couple of weeks ago, two days ago I was at Hobby Lobby for cake decorating supplies (for this nerdy goodness: http://kimberlychapman.livejournal.com/517993.html ) and they had a full aisle of LEDs and some regular ones too, indoor and outdoor, lots of styles, and all on “sale” for what I considered fairly high prices.

    So I guess maybe some places that people don’t expect do have them…

  29. pinkpetunia says:

    Yes, there is a shortage here too (in Denver). I’ve been all over town trying to find LEDs, and there are barely any lights of any kind left to speak of. I second what another commenter said – that at Target, there were about a zillion ornaments, stockings, trees, and general Christmas accoutrements but NO LIGHTS!

  30. milqtost says:

    Doesn’t anyone reuse last year’s lights?

  31. PhiTauBill says: