Christmas Tree Arbitrage Redux

Does the fact that you are on the corner mean that you can corner the market?

Previously, on Christmas Tree Arbitrage …

Since our 2016 article on Christmas tree arbitrage opportunities in local markets, we added the backstory of supply & demand based on planting and harvest cycles affected by prior recessions. This year, we peal back two more layers of the onion: the entry of e-commerce into the market, and the temporal aspect of pricing.

Decades ago Christmas tree shopping in New York was simply a story of street corner competitors. Then came the chain stores, like Whole Foods and Home Depot. And now, enter stage left the biggest player of them all: Amazon. Yes, this season e-commerce is in the Christmas tree market.

Amazon is testing a new thesis on tree shopping: delivery to your door trumps walking to the corner. Aesthetic items used to be squarely in the “try before you buy” category, which only brick and mortar can provide. But our consumer behaviors continue to evolve with the proliferation of e-commerce options, and Amazon thinks the time is now to give e-trees a try.

As Christmas tree prices have remained somewhat elevated following last year’s shortage, Amazon’s pricing of $109 + free delivery is actually a steal! Whole Foods is playing an even more competitive pricing game (likely riding the Amazon wholesale cost advantage), with pricing starting at $35 for a 6-foot tree on Black Friday Weekend. Compare this to the guy on the corner selling $120 trees, and it may be worth the extra avenue of carrying making your husband carry your freshly cut pine – and it’s an excuse to walk off the turkey!

But perhaps you want to optimize for distance walked more than price, and are interested in supporting tree farmers directly. In that case, you can also save some money by buying your tree from your corner vendor in mid-to-late December, rather than early December, when tree demand is highest.

Personally, even at ~20% off, I’m not convinced that buying a Christmas tree blind is a better experience than bundling one up that I’ve examined, checked the moisture levels of, and chatted with a farmer about. I want to know the sustainability policy of his or her farm, and that my tree is locally sourced, 100% organic, free range, cruelty free, and fair trade. I want to be reassured that it had a loving upbringing with a good family. And even if Amazon got all that right, if they are really serious about the e-tree game, I’d want a generous return policy, so that I can order three trees in different sizes, compare them, and return the extras.

Happy tree shopping!