Amazon will sell full-size Christmas trees for the first time this year, following a successful test run with mini trees last year, the Associated Press reported.
Obviously, Amazon is continually making headlines for the many ways it is now involved in our daily lives. A selection from the past two weeks: It’s steadily and rapidly expanding its Whole Foods delivery service in an effort to disrupt your grocery store, partnering with J.Crew for the first time as part of its year-end goal to crush Walmart, and fueling its feud with Sen. Bernie Sanders, which is tied to the extreme wage gap between its workers and its executives as well as reportedly heinous working conditions in its fulfillment centers.
And now, it’s getting involved in Christmas. The trees will be delivered via Prime to any user’s door within 10 days of the tree being chopped. Shipping will be free, but the trees themselves come at a premium — $115 for a 7-foot Fraser fir, for example. (The average Christmas tree in the US cost $51 as of 2016.) This is not even close to being the first Christmas tree delivery service, but it is the first arranged as part of Jeff Bezos’s ever-expanding empire, and therefore, something about it feels a little different.
So would you order an Amazon Christmas tree? While Christmas tree delivery is clearly useful for the elderly and others for whom Christmas tree farms may not be physically accessible, does it not also smack of a corporate monolith trying to grasp at yet another precious facet of the human experience? Is it not sad that the tree is just kind of dropped in front of your house and there’s not even a nice man to put it in a tree stand for you, as there is with established, comparable services?
Wanting to avoid snowy roads and hordes of screaming children is a desire that is quite reasonable to me, but at the same time, I would like to point out something that we might accidentally miss here — Christmas tree farms often give out free hot chocolate to their customers. Sometimes cute boys work at them! Traditions are not about convenience; they are about joy and sweaty group photos.
Amazon has already irrevocably changed the way we shop at Christmas, but will this new service change the way we perform Christmas too? Before we work ourselves into a tizzy, it would behoove us to consult some people who really know Christmas trees inside and out and know exactly how much “disruption” the industry (or an individual uprooted tree) can take.
To that end, I asked five Christmas tree experts for their thoughts on Amazon’s new service.
Beth Walterscheidt, owner of Evergreen Farms (Elgin, Texas)
I speak [for] a choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm where people come out for the experience of choosing and cutting their own tree to take home. These people enjoy the experience and often bring extended family members to enjoy the experience. I do not see [Amazon’s Christmas tree delivery service] as having an impact on our sales. As far as the industry is concerned, I think it has a niche for people who are unable to get out to a tree lot or a farm to get their real tree. It might increase the sales of real Christmas trees, but as I mentioned earlier, it will not deter people from getting out with their families to choose a real tree.
Brian Eshenaur, plant pathologist specializing in ornamental crops (Rochester, New York)
Fresh-cut Christmas trees are resilient. They should be able to handle a few days in a box without a problem as long as the box stays at room temperature or below. You see, when it’s compacted in the box, the surface area of the tree is reduced and the humidity builds up inside, so very little evaporation will take place. When it arrives, it is best then to get the trunk of the tree into water right away.
What the buyer would be missing is the experience! The tradition of selecting your own fresh tree would be missed. It’s often a family event; whether at a tree lot or a field where you choose and cut your own, that’s where a lot of memories are made and traditions are built.
Some species of Christmas trees are tougher than others. As far as a tree that will stay fresh and holds on to its needles, Fraser firs are at the top of the list.
Leo Collins, owner of Bluebird Christmas Tree Farm (Heiskell, Tennessee)
I think there are different types of customers, and that’s a great thing. If you’re wanting to get a tree without the hassle of hunting one down, that’d be a good way to go, I would think. For our customers, it’s more about the experience, and the trees are fresh when they cut them down. But we’re at too low of an elevation to grow Fraser firs — we drive up to a different farm in Tennessee where they have them, buy ’em, bring ’em down, once or twice a week. They stay fresh for several months, so [Amazon] won’t have a problem.
Our customers have learned that [Fraser firs] stay fresh, they smell best and stay green and hold ornaments the best, so they usually end up taking those. You’re not going to get the same experience from opening a box, but if it’s a good tree and it’s at your door and you want that ease, that’s the way to go.
James Cooper, professional Christmas blogger (Minehead, Somerset, UK)
I think this story might be getting a lot of press because it’s Amazon, but I don’t think it’s anything really new. I’ve run my main Christmas site since 2000, and people were offering mail-order Christmas tree services back then — and I know that many big tree suppliers have also been offering real and artificial trees via their sites for several years (even though it’s still a tiny percentage of overall tree sales).
I live in the UK, so it will be interesting to see if Amazon will sell real trees online over here as well!
There’s nothing like going and picking your own tree, either pre-chopped or still in the ground. But I can also see how it could be really convenient for many people. I’m actually basically house-bound with ME/CFS (I’ve had ME for over 25 years — longer than I’ve been in the Christmas business), and so I pretty much rely on online shopping. Being able to order online and get a tree delivered could actually be useful for a whole range of people, not just those two who are “too busy” or don’t want to go out shopping for a tree.
Kurt Emmerich, owner of Emmerich Tree Farm (Warwick, New York)
Boxed and delivered Christmas trees have been available for years. Typically, growers have teamed with FedEx or UPS to offer boxed trees and wreaths delivered to customers’ homes. Growers who market their products this way have been reporting strong sales. The announcement from Amazon should help the real Christmas tree industry recover market share from fake trees, so that’s a good thing. The convenience should rival that of a fake tree.
Of course, delivery eliminates the experience of selecting a fresh cut tree or a choose-and-cut tree from the farm, which is often an annual highlight and tradition for families.
As for freshness, the 10-days-from-cutting promise should help with needle retention, but species selection is probably more important. While you can select most any species on the farm and keep it fresh through watering, trees delivered 10 days after cutting must be a species with excellent needle retention qualities such as a Fraser fir.
Regarding price, $115 for a 7- to 8-foot tree is significantly higher than at most retail outlets or farms where you can cut your own. While the convenience factor is high, the overall value does not seem to be there when considering the limited species selection, inability to choose your specific tree, and the risk of shipping damage and/or trees sitting uncollected in depots, driveways, or building lobbies.
As a Christmas tree grower, the decision by Amazon to sell real Christmas trees is exciting and demonstrates the buying public’s growing preference for real Christmas trees. As a substitute for the “Real Christmas Tree Experience (TM),” Amazon has a long way to go to deliver the goods.
Iconic Christmas lover Martha Stewart was not available for comment for this piece, but for the record: She didn’t make a must-watch mini documentary about herself and Michael Jordan and Miss Piggy opening a box, okay? She loves cutting down a tree. She loves effort. On the other hand, Martha Stewart regularly acknowledges the value of our time and recommends convenience. It appears that in 2007, she did receive at least five of her Christmas trees via some kind of delivery service. We are without a final ruling here from her.
Again, is a Christmas tree about the experience of getting a Christmas tree, or is a Christmas tree simply about the smell? Is it about sweeping up pine needles 40 times a day so your cat doesn’t eat them and then barf, or is it about going outside and getting a kissing-by-a-barn picture for Instagram? I couldn’t say. And am I trying to get into the artificial tree versus real tree debate right now? Absolutely not!
However, none of the Christmas experts I consulted brought up whether they had an ethical issue with Amazon’s business model or corporate practices or impingement on storied cultural rituals; basically all any of them mentioned caring about was seeing real trees get out from under the horrible tyranny of fake trees.
They could not care less what Amazon does, so long as fake trees are the ones losing. This, above all, is the real Christmas spirit.