Meadville Tribune

November 22, 2012

Retailers ready for holly, jolly holiday season

Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Area retailers are set to give consumers a holly, jolly start to the Christmas shopping season not just Friday, but over the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

“It’s really turned from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season) into a big four-day event over the years,” Chuck Schultz, manager of Kmart in Vernon Township, said of the period from Thanksgiving through Sunday. Schultz has been in retailing for 31 years.

The average holiday shopper will spend $749.51 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and more, up slightly from the $740.57 spent in 2011, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2012 Holiday Consumer Spending Survey conducted by BIGinsight. NRF is forecasting holiday sales will increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion in 2012.

“We’ve seen this pattern of cautious optimism all year and despite the challenges that still exist in our economy, it looks as if consumers are eager to celebrate with friends and family,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and chief executive officer. “As the most promotional time of the year, retailers will continue to look for ways to stand out, specifically with attractive deals on toys, electronics and apparel, even well before the ‘official’ start of the holiday shopping season — Black Friday and Cyber Monday.”

As a way to stand out, some chains — like Kmart — are adjusting hours and putting more of an emphasis into Thanksgiving in a drive to get consumers into stores.

“We’re open 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thanksgiving and then 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. (Friday) and then reopen at 5 a.m. Friday,” Schultz said. “We’re having new specials on each so it’s like three different ‘door busters.’ ”

Small businesses, too

Small independent retailers also look for ways to stand out.

Linesville Area Chamber of Commerce recently held its candlelight walk event in the borough as a way to attract customers.

Many communities in Crawford County — like Meadville and Cambridge Springs — host Light-Up Nights with the lighting of a community Christmas tree and a visit from Santa Claus.

“It’s a very important time for small businesses,” said Vicki Neal, vice president of the Linesville Area Chamber of Commerce. “We can get 25 to 30 percent of our sales in the weekend.”

For the last few years, Small Business Saturday — the Saturday after Thanksgiving — has been promoted nationally as a way to get people to shop independent stores.

“We encourage people to shop in their hometowns,” said Neal. “Small businesses are important to their communities in providing goods and services and need people to succeed.”

While NRF’s holiday surveys have asked how the economy will impact consumers’ spending plans, consumers have adjusted.

This holiday season, consumers now accustomed to living on a budget, cutting back on non-essential purchases, and using coupons and searching for deals, 52.3 percent say the state of the U.S. economy will affect their spending plans, down from 62.2 percent last year.

While recent polls have shown consumers are focused on the economy as it relates to discretionary spending, the NRF said the lower percentage is indicative of a consumer that has spent four years changing spending habits, and is better prepared for the uncertain economic outlook in the near future.

“More than half of Americans this holiday season will feel the impact of the economy and will compensate by doing what they’ve been doing for several years — looking for ways to cut any corners, comparative shop online and in stores more often, and even planning to travel less or not at all,” said Shay.

Specifically, the survey found 31.4 percent of consumers will comparative shop online more often, 46.4 percent will shop for sales more often, 23.2 percent will travel less or not at all, and 6.0 percent will comparative shop using their mobile device.

Setting a new high, more than half — 51.8 percent — will shop online for gifts and other items this holiday season, up from 46.7 percent last year. When asked what percent of their holiday shopping they planned to do online, the average person will complete about 38.8 percent of his or her shopping on retailers’ and other companies websites, another survey high., NRF’s digital division, is forecasting online holiday sales will grow 12 percent to as much as $96 billion this year.

When it comes to holiday wish lists, the usual culprits top the list each year: clothing, books, DVDs, video games and electronics, but there’s one that stands out more than any other — gift cards.

According to the NRF, 59.8 percent of those polled say they’d like to receive gift cards this year, up from 57.7 percent last year. This year’s percentage is the highest in the survey’s history. Almost half, 49.1 percent, say they would like clothing, 45.7 percent said books, CD, DVDs, videos, or video games, and more than one-third, 35.8 percent, are requesting electronics or computer-related accessories. Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed, 24 percent, want jewelry, the most seen since 2008.

About the survey

The National Retail Federation 2012 Holiday Consumer Spending Survey was designed to gauge consumer behavior and shopping trends related to the winter holidays. The survey polled 8,899 consumers and was conducted for NRF by BIGinsight from Oct. 2 through 8. The consumer poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percent.

The National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association representing retailers of all types and sizes, including chain restaurants and industry partners, from the U.S. and more than 45 countries abroad. Retailers operate more than 3.6 million U.S. establishments that support one in four U.S. jobs — 42 million working Americans and retail contributes $2.5 trillion to the U.S. annual Gross Domestic Product.