Retailers are merry, so far : LUSENET : (Keeping Track) : One Thread

November 26, 2001


Holiday shoppers hit the malls over the weekend, snapping up plentiful bargains as retailers put lots of goodies on sale--and those promotions contributed to sales increases on the day after Thanksgiving.

Now comes the hard part: getting those shoppers to return, and luring procrastinating consumers to spend lots of money over what is the longest Christmas shopping season since 1990.

Thanksgiving-weekend final sales figures weren't available Sunday, but at first blush, there was a little good news for retailers. Sales at stores open at least one year climbed 2.4 percent over last year, according to Telecheck Services Inc., which analyzes checks written by shoppers around the country. Checks account for one-third of retail spending.

"That's right in line with our expectations," said Ira Silver, Telecheck's senior retail adviser. "Given the economic environment and the fact that we may be in a recession, those are fairly good numbers."

Stores typically offer bargains on the day after Thanksgiving, and this year was no exception. Anecdotally, some analysts say the discounts might have been just a bit bigger this year as retailers feared consumers might pull back in a post-Sept. 11, struggling economy with rising unemployment and paltry corporate profits.

To combat the possibility that Americans might shop less in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, retailers offered loads of incentives.

Early-bird shoppers were rewarded over the weekend with deals such as free American flag T-shirts at Marshall Field's, 10 percent off of most everything at Sears, Roebuck and Co., and special sales such as buy a pair of shoes and get another pair at half price at Nine West.

"It's very promotional this year," said Marc Strich, general manager of Woodfield Shopping Mall in Schaumburg. "People are definitely bargain-hunting."

Strich said the mall had "a modest increase in traffic levels" on Friday, and that the number of shoppers that showed up Saturday was about the same as last year, based on how many cars were in the lot. On Sunday, shoppers were seen buying cold-weather goods as temperatures cooled from 60-plus degrees on Saturday, Strich said.

Last week, the New York-based Conference Board, an economic research firm that measures monthly consumer confidence reports, said it predicted retail sales in the United States would fall 4 percent from the previous year, with households spending $462 on average for Christmas gifts, compared with $490 in 2000.

It's early in the season, and it's difficult to know whether the dire predictions will come true. Even though there is bad economic news, however, there are lots of positives for Americans: lower interest rates, refinanced mortgages and tax rebates and rate cuts help, says Silver. And though the nation's unemployment rate rose to 5.4 percent in October, the highest rate since 1996, "there are still 94.6 percent of people working," he said.

Strich predicts the sales will continue through at least mid-December. Silver said shoppers will likely see big discounts in that weekend just before Christmas, and how deep the discounts are will depend upon how the sales are during the weeks prior. Sears spokeswoman Peggy Palter said the company has reviewed its planned promotions--which are determined in the spring--since Sept. 11, but said the company "didn't feel the need" to alter its planned sales that month. Palter said Sunday she had no sales figures yet, but offered that Friday store managers "didn't see anything significantly different" from previous Fridays after Thanksgiving Day in terms of shoppers and sales.

A plus for retailers this season is a fluke of the calendar--the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the longest since 1990 because Thanksgiving came earlier than in previous years. That means more shopping days.

Though the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have affected consumers in many ways, including their confidence about their jobs and the economy, 84 percent of shoppers in a poll by the Opinion Research Corp. said the attacks had no effect on their shopping plans. The Skillman, N.J.-based marketing research firm interviewed 1,000 Americans recently about their shopping plans.

Afghanistan played a role in at least one shopper's gift-buying decision.

Penny Hoyne-Griglione, 45, a social worker from Champaign, was shopping for a world map at Rand McNally at Woodfield Mall for her daughter, a third-year pre-med student at the University of Virginia.

"With everything going on right now, she wants to post it on her wall," Hoyne-Griglione said.

Contributing: Sandra Guy, Janet Rausa Fuller

-- Everything (will@be.alright), November 26, 2001


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-- Everything (will@ be.alright), November 26, 2001.

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