Local retailers cheer strong sales
Despite economic woes, experts predict prosperous holiday season for merchants
Tyrone Richardson / The Morning Call
Christmas songs and buzzing cash registers filled the air at Boscov’s department stores during the long Thanksgiving weekend, a scene mirrored throughout the Lehigh Valley as merchants kicked off the busy holiday shopping season with strong sales.”It’s looking like a good year for us and we’re hopeful things will continue like that,” CEO and President Al Boscov said Monday.
The 40-store regional chain, which has stores at Lehigh Valley Mall and Palmer Park Mall, beat last year’s extended weekend sales by about 9 percent, aided by heavy promotions and extended hours, Boscov said.
Many merchants recorded good sales during the weekend, which included unseasonably warm weather, aggressive promotions and extended store hours that went into Thanksgiving for some — a day once off-limits to the retail world. The weekend’s profits and early Cyber Monday sales reports have industry experts predicting a prosperous holiday season for merchants despite high unemployment and other economic woes.”Consumers are definitely opening their wallets again,” Andrew Lipsman, a vice president of industry analysis at ComScore, said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “Consumers have been saving and got their houses in order. They are feeling a bit better about spending than the past several years.”
That meant more consumers poured into stores like hhgregg, an electronics chain with a store at Lehigh Valley Mall.
“We were very pleased with store traffic and how many customers lined up prior to the midnight opening of our stores,” said hhgregg spokesman Jeff Pearson. “Lines were larger than previous years and customers were buying the products and services we offered.”
An estimated 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites over Thanksgiving weekend, 14 million more than a year ago, according to the National Retail Federation. Overall, Thanksgiving weekend sales soared 16.4 percent to $52.4 billion, the industry trade group reported Sunday.
“Stuffed to the brim from their holiday meals and eager to shop, more consumers than ever turned out for retailers’ Black Friday promotions, a promising sign for the economic recovery,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “After an historic holiday weekend, retailers know the holiday season is far from over and will continue to look for ways to excite holiday shoppers and build on the momentum we’ve seen thus far.”
On Monday, merchants like Sage women’s shop in the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley were counting profits and scrambling to replenish UGG boots, Vera Bradley accessories and other items that sold during the weekend.
“Everything was great. It was a very busy Friday and all weekend and I think the weather helped,” said Sage co-owner Rachel Haddad. “We were up over last year which is great and we hope this is a sign of the rest of the holiday shopping season.”
Amazon.com and brick-and-mortar merchants like Macy’s and Best Buy also were pulling out big discounts and free shipping for Cyber Monday — a day when people return to work after the holiday break and browse for gifts online.
Online retail sales were up 20 percent from a year earlier as of noon Monday, according to International Business Machines Corp. Online purchasing was estimated to rise to $1.2 billion from $1.03 billion last year, according to ComScore Inc., a market-research firm.
Cyber Monday is the latest battleground for merchants, which have been touting holiday promotions since late summer.
Industry experts have said merchants are attempting to be first on everything since some initial holiday consumer spending was predicted to be less than 2010. That prompted Walmart to open on Thanksgiving and competitors such as Target to follow suit, even with critics saying workers should rather be home with family.
Jeff Green, president and CEO of Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green Partners, said it was surprising that merchants did so well over the Black Friday weekend and cautioned that the momentum could fizzle in the coming weeks.
“The fact that the weekend was so good will bode well for sales over 2010, but it will be slowing down as we get into December,” Green said. “There will be a lack of promotions. They brought out all their big guns early.”