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With Christmas Tree Supply Frightful, Prices For Sellers Are Delightful

Kim Londrico, owner of Londrico's Christmas Trees in Cleveland, rearranges the merchandise.
Adrian Ma
Kim Londrico, owner of Londrico's Christmas Trees in Cleveland, rearranges the merchandise.

The Christmas shopping season is when millions of Americans are hoping to find bargains, but at least one holiday staple has gotten more expensive. According to the payment services company Square, the average price for a real Christmas tree in Ohio is just over $61, or about 5 percent higher than in 2016.

So why are these evergreens more expensive? For one thing, the overall supply of Christmas trees is down.

"There is definitely a shortage of trees," said Kim Londrico, who owns Londrico's Christmas Trees in Cleveland. The low supply, coupled with increased costs for trucking, has forced her to raise prices about 25 percent this year, she said.

“Most growers are getting more requests for trees than they have,” said Tim O’Connor Executive Director of the National Christmas Tree Association.” That’s a big change from just a few years ago. “If you go back to the late 90s and the early-2000s, growers had produced way too many Christmas trees,” O’Connor said.

That oversupply, along with the Great Recession, made it tough for most producers to turn a profit. But now that the economy’s up and tree supply is down, prices have rebounded.

Nevertheless, with a little timing and preparation, it is still possible to get a deal on some jolly greenery. Here are five tips for buying a real tree, including advice from a data scientist and a negotiation expert.

1. Don’t Buy Too Early

“We see every single year, very predictably, the first weekend in December is the blockbuster weekend to buy a Christmas tree,” said Sara Vera, a data scientist at the payments firm Square, who has analyzed sales from over a thousand tree merchants around the country.

Prices tend to peak just after Thanksgiving and drop the closer you get to Christmas, she said. So, the longer you wait, the more money you might save.

The price and demand of a live Christmas tree fluctuated between Black Friday and Christmas Eve in 2017 according to Square Inc.
Credit Square Inc.
The price and demand of a live Christmas tree fluctuated between Black Friday and Christmas Eve in 2017 according to Square Inc.

2. Don’t Buy Too Late

Careful though. If you wait too long, the inventory you have to choose from may have thinned out considerably. “You might end up with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree,” Vera said.

3. Buy In Person, So You Can Negotiate

Online shopping allows you to compare prices. And there are indeed websites, such as Christmas Trees Now and A Tree to Your Door, that will sell you a tree through the interwebs.

But if you’re going to negotiate, you gotta be there in person. Obvious, maybe, but still worth noting that negotiation tactics don’t really work with a bot.

4. Before You Negotiate, Figure Out What You Want, What You Can Live With, And What Your Options Are

Picture your ideal tree. Is it tall, shaggy, scraggly, or full?

“When you break things down to the discrete dimensions of height, color, width, you have more flexibility to figure out what would make you happy,” said John Paul Stephens, a professor at Case Western Reserve University who teaches negotiation.

Then, call around to different shops. See what they’re offering and where they are on the map. If one seller won’t give you what you want, maybe another will.

“Knowing your alternatives is important because that's where your power comes from,” Stephens said.

5. Make Your Negotiation Into More Of A Conversation Than A Competition

“I think before you get into the price, it might not hurt to say, ‘Hey, tell me more about this tree,’” Stephens said.

To open up the conversation, try saying, “Is there any flexibility in the price?”

Next, “anchor” your negotiation by proposing a specific price.

“You set the trajectory of where things can go and you get to see their reaction,” he said.

Bring a little holiday cheer and goodwill-toward-all to the interaction, and you may be surprised with the results.

Adrian Ma is a business reporter and recovering law clerk for ideastream in Cleveland. Since making the switch from law to journalism, he's reported on how New York's helicopter tour industry is driving residents nuts, why competition is heating up among Ohio realtors, and the controlled-chaos of economist speed-dating. Previously, he was a producer at WNYC News. His work has also aired on NPR's Planet Money, and Marketplace. In 2017, the Association of Independents in Radio designated him a New Voices Scholar, an award recognizing new talent in public media. Some years ago, he worked in a ramen shop.