Retailers expect a solid holiday shopping season
Justine Griffin/Sarasota Herald-Tribune
As Black Friday and the kickoff to holiday shopping looms near, retailers are stocking shelves for what is expected to be a positive season — although perhaps not quite as strong as the year prior.
“This isn’t going to be a record-breaking year by any means, but it’s not 2009 again either,” said Dale Scott, Florida director of the International Council of Shopping Centers, a prominent trade group.
Holiday sales are expected to rise about 4 percent this year, according to the National Retail Federation, bringing nationwide spending to $586 billion.
That number would be flat when compared with 2011, though, when sales grew by 5.6 percent.
But Florida’s retail sales between now and Christmas could be even better, if projections hold. The Florida Retail Federation is predicting a 5.2 percent increase over last year.
Analysts say there are several indicators that seem to be standing in the way of more impressive sales this year — stagnant job and income growth, a sluggish unemployment rate, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and continued uncertainty following November’s election and the so-called federal “fiscal cliff.”
“While moderate compared to what we experienced the last two holiday seasons, the forecast is a very pragmatic look at what to expect this year given the current rate of economic growth,” said Jack Kleinhenz, the NRF’s chief economist.
“There’s still some general anxiety amongst consumers when it comes to how the state of the economy is impacting their spending plans,” Kleinhenz said. “But retailers can expect to see excitement around their promotions and plenty of bargain hunters both online and in stores in the coming months.”
Federation officials are not the only ones taking a pragmatic approach to the shopping season at this juncture.
Jeff Green, a retail analyst with Phoenix-based Jeff Green Associates, has scaled back his original prediction of 3 percent to 5 percent holiday sales growth for 2012. He now believes growth will be more modest, at 2 percent to 4 percent.
“Black Friday has become this kind of symbolic day, representative of the four-day shopping weekend,” Green said. “But what we found out last year, as retailers started creeping into Thanksgiving Day, is it doesn’t really increase the amount of business as much as it spreads out the shopping over the entire long weekend.”
But consumer confidence has been steadily rising throughout the year, and retail sales have been gaining momentum leading up to the holidays. The measurement reached post-recession highs in September and October in the state, a University of Florida survey found.
Southwest Florida’s housing market has shown improvements — especially in white-hot pockets like Lakewood Ranch — and auto dealerships regionwide are reporting their biggest gains in years.
Chain stores will be vying for every variety of Black Friday shopper this year.
Brick and mortar merchants Walmart, Toys R Us and Target, not surprisingly, are offering doorbuster deals when they open Thursday night beginning at 8 p.m.
The deals are aimed at attracting shoppers who would prefer not to get up in the early morning hours, as they have been enticed to do in recent years.
But the bargains will not stop there.
Walmart will offer low-cost promotions in waves this year. After an initial round of savings on clothing, video games and toys, another wave will commence at 10 p.m.
At that time, shoppers can line up for hot electronics, like an iPad 2 for $399 plus a $75 Walmart gift card; a LG Blu-Ray player for $38; and an Emerson 32-inch flat screen HDTV for $148.
At 5 a.m., a final wave of special deals will kick off, centered on more general merchandise.
But unlike previous years, Walmart plans to guarantee shoppers in line from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. the opportunity to purchase its doorbuster deals on electronics even if the supply runs out, said spokeswoman Veronica Marshall.
“We know the frustration of being there early on Black Friday and items quickly going out of stock,” Marshall said. “So shoppers will be given a guarantee card once they purchase the item on Black Friday, which they can use to register online and come and pick up the item before Christmas.”
Other retailers, like Sears, Target and Toys R Us, will also stagger promotions through the night, hoping to keep shoppers coming through the doors in waves.
“Retailers are trying to extend the shopping season as long as they can,” said the ICSC’s Scott.
Social media and smartphones, meanwhile, will play a key role in the way people shop this year on Black Friday.
Three in every 10 retailers will promote Black Friday deals through mobile alerts, according to the NRF. The technology will allow shoppers to plot out their buying strategies with interactive, local store maps on the Walmart and Target mobile apps.
More than 70 percent of smart phone owners will use their device to help them shop this season, according to a survey by research firm Deloitte.
Bradenton-based Bealls Inc. is expected to launch its mobile site today, which will let shoppers check prices and present coupons from its website on their phones at checkout stations, said spokesman Bill Webster.
Shoppers who “like” Bealls on Facebook will have access to exclusive offers on Black Friday, too.
As has been the case for several years, some anxious shoppers camped out in front of the Best Buy store in Bradenton the day before Thanksgiving to shore up their chances of landing some of the electronics chain’s limited doorbuster deals.
Bradenton store general manager Jon Elliott expects to see that again this year for the store’s midnight Black Friday opening, as long as the weather holds.
“We expect the same kind of customer traffic with the midnight opening,” Elliott said.