Much of our holiday shopping has shifted online. Take those Black Friday weekend sales: According to data from Adobe, Cyber Monday this year was the biggest sales day in history. But while we’re certainly buying gifts online, and maybe even fruit cakes and other treats too, there’s one Christmas purchase that many of us still make in person: the Christmas tree.
“It’s amazing, it’s still not a very well known thing yet really, even though it’s been available a lot of years,” said Wes Brown, owner of online Christmas tree seller ATreeAtYourDoor.com. Brown’s site has been selling trees online for eight years, but new customers are routinely surprised when they discover they can buy their Fraser or Noble fir over the internet. (That includes several Slate staffers, who learned about it in our company Slack on Wednesday).
But online Christmas tree buying is practically a pastime in my family. My mom first started ordering online after one ill-fated tree we purchased at Home Depot hatched thousands of tiny, web-making mites on Christmas morning around 10 years ago.
“That was a turning point,” she said, after we debated whether they were mites or spiders. “Also I found that the trees from lots I would buy were basically a fire hazard by the time Christmas rolled around.”
Indeed, this is one of the biggest perks of buying a tree online: It’s far fresher than one you’d pick up at your local grocery store parking lot. Online tree buyers typically receive their tree within a week of it being chopped. According to Brown, they cut the trees fresh, box them within two days of being cut, then ship. Chain stores, by comparison, usually cut their trees at the beginning of October, to account for the fact that they’re being shipped all over the country.
Depending on your location, the trees in lots may be cheaper. But in places requiring trees to be shipped further or places where tree lot real estate comes at a premium, such as California or New York, online ordering can be about the same cost as in-person. A 6.5 foot Fraser fir, Michigan-based ATreeAtYourDoor’s most popular variety, ends up costing between $100 and $120: The tree itself costs $59, and shipping costs around $50. Prices are similar from other sellers, like Vermont’s Redrock Farms. The 6.5 to 7-foot Balsam fir is this seller’s most popular tree, and it runs at $73 plus shipping. (Those buying trees in lots this year may find prices higher than normal due to a Christmas tree shortage stemming from the recession ten years ago.)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, online Christmas trees are more often purchased in areas where there’s higher population density, and fewer cars, including New York City and New Jersey. “It’s a lot of apartment buildings, but we ship great big trees to great big houses, too,” Brown said. They also ship a lot of trees to Florida, a region not particularly known for its native evergreen population.
Online buying comes with another benefit, too. Depending on the seller, trees purchased online may be easier to set up in your home. Some purchases come with stands in the box. Brown’s company, for example, drills a hole in the bottom of the tree so it mounts quickly and easily onto the included pin stand. And of course, there’s the fact that you don’t have to lug it home on the L train, which sounds mildly traumatizing, or figure out how to strap it to your car without inducing unnecessary damage.
Online Christmas tree buying seems to be growing in popularity. Brown says that sales have been increasing annually—this year, sales are up 30 percent over last year. But perhaps the industry’s slowness to catch on—compared to other online buying habits—isn’t due so much to lack of awareness as to family tradition. For many, picking out the tree is the best part about the whole process. Who can forget the scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas where Charlie finally finds his perfect piece of greenery? It may take a terrible experience—such as a bug infestation or fire scare—to convince buyers to abandon those traditions. But purchasing a tree online, whether for the first time or the 20th, can still drum up nostalgia: The website designs will take you right back to your childhood.