Christmas Eve shoppers avoid crowds
Rick Ruggles / Omaha World-Herald
The shop clock expired Friday with a pop, not a bang.
Malls in the metro area attracted reasonably high numbers of customers, but they were far from swamped.
Janice Opal wore a Santa hat as she roamed Mall of the Bluffs in Council Bluffs for Iowa Hawkeye goods for a daughter. Opal was pleased with what she discovered.
“Hardly any waiting,” she said as she emerged from Midwest Sports and Tees.
Analysts predicted Christmas Eve wouldn’t be a booming day for retail businesses, and they appeared to be right. Plenty of parking spaces remained empty in mall parking lots in the late morning and early afternoon.
Shops tended to close early Friday after staying open extra hours in the nights leading up to Christmas.
A retail tracking service said Christmas Eve would fail to crack the year’s top three shopping days. Chicago-based ShopperTrak said the top three would be Black Friday (Nov. 26 this year), Dec. 23 (Thursday) and Super Saturday (Dec. 18 this year).
Bill Martin, the founder of ShopperTrak, said Christmas Eve typically isn’t a strong day. “It’s a winding-down day,” Martin said.
The National Retail Federation said that based on a survey of 9,100 consumers this month, only a little more than 10 percent of people expected to buy gifts on Christmas Eve.
In Oak View Mall in west Omaha, several men stood around the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s gift-wrap tables, waiting for their gifts.
Jacki Saylan, one of a dozen wrappers behind the tables, said most of the foundation’s customers Friday would be men who had waited until the end.
Saylan said some convey the sense that they would be satisfied with newspaper for wrapping paper at that point.
“Just cover it,” they say.
Saylan described business this holiday season as steady but less than overwhelming.
Those comments were similar to observations made by Kent Junge, owner of the Cookie Company in the food court at Oak View Mall. This season has been similar to the 2009 season, which wasn’t excellent, Junge said.
Marshal Cohen, a New York-based analyst, said shoppers “had a little bit of panic in their stride” Friday because time was running out.
For retailers, he said, it’s been “a good, not great, kind of holiday.” They offered many bargains this year, in part because of the economy and in part because retail has become even more competitive than in the past, he said, with online purchases.
Jeff Green, a Phoenix-based retail consultant, predicted sales this season would increase 2 to 4 percent from the holiday season of 2009.
At Mall of the Bluffs, Grant Duncan of Tradehome Shoes expressed optimism. Duncan, the store’s assistant manager, said the week had been solid.
“Wednesday was crazy,” Duncan said. Employees would have Christmas Day off, and then they would be back to work Sunday.
“We’ll be fighting returns, for sure,” Duncan said.