- 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

Millions of Americans are hoping to find bargains over the Christmas shopping season. But at least one holiday staple has gotten more expensive. So far this season, the average price for a real Christmas tree is currently about $78, according to the payments firm Square. That's nearly 7 percent higher than the average for the 2017 season and almost 20 percent higher than 2016. 

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

“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 the 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. For the past couple of years, Square has gathered and analyzed sales from over a thousand tree merchants from around the country.

Prices tend to peak just after Thanksgiving and drop the closer you get to Dec. 25, she said. (This past weekend, Dec. 15-16, the average price for a tree was about $68, according to fresh figures from Square). So, the longer you wait, the more money you might save.

A graph of Christmas tree sales and prices in 2017. 
A graph of Christmas tree sales and prices in 2017.  - 

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. Like, really picture it. 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, an associate 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.

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.