USA TODAY (Bruce Horovitz) -- The artificial Christmas tree has an angel on top this holiday.
Early sales trends for the faux trees are up, according to Wal-mart and Target, and at Home Depot, sales have jumped double-digits this season. Overall, annual sales of artificial trees are expected to hit a record $1.07 billion this year, up more than 6%, with a record 13.4 million trees sold, an analysis projects based on federal and Nielsen data by BalsamHill.com, the largest online seller of artificial trees.
There could even be a retail shortage of fake trees closer to Christmas, says Thomas Harman, founder of BalsamHill.com and director of the trade group American Christmas Tree Association.
"I know Christmas trees aren't as exciting as Furby," Harman says, "but artificial trees could run out."
A digital nation that views reality as Facebook friends and Twitter tweets may be warming to the notion of artificial Christmas trees glowing in its living rooms. "An artificial tree is ever so slightly more real today because our concept of reality is shifting through our use of technology," says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow. "Things that are tangible," such as farm-grown trees, she says, "may have lost some of their allure."
Don't tell that to the folks at the National Christmas Tree Association, the trade group for tree growers. "Young adults choose a fresh Christmas tree each year at a higher rate than the overall population," spokesman Rick Dungey says. Real trees still outsell fake trees more than three to one, the group says.
But artificial tree lovers appear to be growing as:
- Some consumers are buying real and fake. Last year, 11% of consumers purchased both farm-grown and artificial trees, Harman says.
- Even the priciest are selling out. Two weeks ago, the priciest artificial tree sold by TreeTime Christmas Creations, an online seller, sold out at $1,200 each, managing partner Joe Kane says.
- Price promotions are a lure. On Black Friday, Home Depot sold out of every Martha Stewart dual-function LED tree, when it offered the $179 tree for $59, says Brad Whited, senior merchant.
Then there's Joan Pond Laisney of Carlsbad, Calif. She decks her home with six artificial trees. But she waits until after Christmas to buy them - for a fraction of the price.
There's one she snatched in the best deal of all: "I rescued it from my neighbor's curb."