IT may only be the beginning of October but in our high streets Christmas is already is here. You can already hear the relentless retail beast’s growling instruction getting louder by the day... ‘‘Come spend, spend now, and spend high’’.

Without the festive spending spree – on average we each spend £362 on Christmas gifts – tens of thousands of businesses from individual artisans to megalith supermarkets would be in serious trouble. And this year, online shopping will yet again dominate buying trends as we log on to find the gifts we’ll stuff into stockings and pile up under the tree.

READ MORE: Gift-giving with a difference: how to help Scottish charities at Christmas

And yes, Christmas is starting earlier and earlier. Argos released its list of 2018 ‘must-have’ Christmas toys in June. In our stores the shopping festival otherwise known as Christmas now runs from the end of August until the January sales, with the demands for consumers to invest in gifts month-by-month ratcheting up through the gears.

Halloween may be yet to come, but between now and December 25 there’s also Black Friday on November 23 (tied in with the US Thanksgiving holiday), Cyber Monday on November 26, and the biggest shopping day in the world – Singles Day on November 11. This Chinese celebration honouring single youths (the date chosen as the numbers of 11/11 look a little lonely) has morphed into an online retail frenzy worth an incredible $25 billion.

READ MORE: How to avoid falling into debt this Christmas

There are just 77 shopping days to go and over the core five weeks of Christmas trading, £78bn is spent across the UK, with online shopping accounting for one fifth of it – sales in physical stores in the UK fell by 2.5% in 2017.

Although UK consumers spend 38% more compared to our European counterparts in December, last year’s spend is described as “a little tepid” by analysts – Scottish sales only increased by 0.3% on a like-for-like basis compared to December 2016, not in any way a bonanza.

In Scotland shops and traders are working hard for every sale says Ewan MacDonald-Russell of the Scottish Retail Consortium.

“Every year it feels like we need a good Christmas to help retailers get through it and that’s very true for this year as well.

“Because it is such a focal point in the year we are already seeing retailers trying to roll out their strategies to get customers to spend now, so even very early things like calendars are available.

“Our biggest concern though this year is consumers and the pressure they are under. Families are really stretched. Clearly we don’t want people to over extend themselves at Christmas but retailers are really pushing themselves to put items into sales now, well ahead of what used to be the Christmas shopping period.”

Are we approaching the point where the Christmas spend is unlikely to keep growing? Ian Jindal is the editor-in-chief of Internet Retailing, the trade publication for multichannel retailers, and an expert in how we spend our Christmas cash. He says the Christmas business model for retailers is clearly “not comfortable. No retailer in their right mind actually likes peak trading.

“For retailers it doesn’t make sense to have a world where 80% of your profits happen in six risky weeks. So they are trying and trying to bring the peak forward to gain a march on purses and wallets early.

‘‘In ‘the olden days’ of shopping Boxing Day sales were the highlight but now with Cyber Monday and Black Friday and Singles Day and Amazon Prime Day we barely have time to breathe between sale events, and customers know there are bargains to be had.”

The National:

Jindal is seeing clear trends in the interactions between shoppers and online retailers. “There are two strands – the first is to bring Christmas as far forward as possible on the basis that most families don’t have an infinite credit card... once its spent its spent. So the early bird gets the worm.

“The second trend is that people are caring less and less about Christmas presents because there is no sentient adult who doesn’t know that a present today is 70% off tomorrow.

‘THERE’S been a huge increase in gift voucher giving. Five years ago the biggest day was still Boxing Day, and it was quite normal to get an IOU on Christmas morning for a promise to go to the sales.

“But that behaviour has changed, and now people will co-browse on Christmas morning and will spend their vouchers on the online sale without going out. They are out cynicising the retailers.”

Jindal is not optimistic about either the amount of money people will spend this year, or the volume of sales.

“This year we are in the second year of an uncalled recession, it’s a recession in anything but name. Competition is greater than it’s ever been before and retailers are the weakest they have been for 10-15 years.

“I am expecting some dire post-Christmas numbers as it feels to me that people are clinging on by their fingertips and retailers will have to work extremely hard in order to get anything like the spend they’ve had from people in the past.”

Edinburgh-based Cally Russell, CEO of the UKs leading fashion app Mallzee and retail analytics business Mallzee Insights, said adaptation to shoppers spreading their spend across several weeks is key for companies hoping to sell well at Christmas.

“Christmas has always been one of the busiest times of year for the retail industry but in recent years we have seen big changes in how people shop and an extension to the festive shopping period,” he told the Sunday National.

“A lot of this can be attributed to the introduction of Black Friday, with retailers being forced to introduce their Christmas ranges much earlier to capture the many shoppers who now buy their ‘big ticket Christmas items’ in November.

“However our busiest shopping day of the year is always Boxing Day when usage doubles which is no doubt largely due to the price drop notifications which are automatically sent to users.”

Ian Jindal says that online shopping is beating the high street for ease and convenience. “There has been a significant rise in people talking about “the experience economy” of going into stores and having a feel of a coat or furniture and then buying online, but, really, the absence of pain is not the same of joy.

"If shopping on a high street is not for you then you won’t do it. Experience is important probably for next year when stores have really thought through how to do it properly.”

All that said, let’s not forget that Christmas spending can be tempered a little by helping others in the cold and dark. A report for the Charities Aid Foundation earlier this year shows that 38% of people reported giving to charity in December 2017, with charities connected to homeless people, housing and refuge shelters in the UK gaining more of the giving share in December than other months of the year.

A spokesperson for the Church of Scotland also told the Sunday National that the true meaning of Christmas remains. “Thinking about what people spend on Christmas, the Church would want folk to be sensible and not forget the real meaning of Christmas; the birth of Jesus, in a byre near Bethlehem.

"The real Christmas gift is God’s gift to us and the message Jesus brought of living in peace and loving our neighbours.

“So if Christmas matters, in the sense that the Church believes it does, then being sensible about what’s spent is important – as is the message in the Gospel about welcome and hospitality.”