(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
Etoy and Ceola Jackson of Charleston arrived at 7:30 a.m. at Lowe's in Sikeston today. While the aisles weren't too crowded in the store, some items such as giant outdoor displays were missing from the shelves only 30 minutes after the doors opened, the Jacksons noted. Even so, the couple said they found some very good deals with merchandise marked 75 percent off.
"We came last year after Christmas and got a few things. So today we're continuing and adding more to what we got last year," said Ceola Jackson, whose cart was full of Christmas lights, stockings, wrapping paper and other decor.
People were lined up at the Sikeston Wal-Mart when it opened its doors at 6 a.m. today, said greeter Brenda Kincy. While the parking lot wasn't full early today, she said business has been steady.
"It's crowded in the Christmas section," said shopper Teresa Roberts. Roberts arrived around 6:15 a.m. before going to work at 8 a.m. today. Her husband, Kenneth, was along to guard her cart for her while she made her selections.
Roberts purchased several half-priced items including gift boxes, wrapping paper and even Christmas gifts for next year for her nieces and nephews, she said.
"A lot of people don't want to get up so early so they hold off (shopping early)," noted Wanda Williams," service desk manager for Wal-Mart. "Some wait until the afternoon and some wait a week because they don't want to fight the crowds. Of course the longer they wait, the more things are picked."
At J.C. Penney Co. in Sikeston, supervisor Erin Blackmon said business has been "so far so good" since they opened at 7 a.m. They hadn't been bombarded with customers, but she said she expected business to pick up around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. and even into the afternoon.
On the national level, retailers are counting even more heavily on the week after Christmas to meet their sales goals, as two consecutive snow storms in the Northeast, a lack of must-have items, a sluggish job market and few early bargains dampened the pre-holiday shopping season.
By 6:30 a.m., shoppers were already lining up outside a Target store in Columbus, Ohio. By the time the store opened a half-hour later, about 100 people were at the entrances.
''You've got to move fast. That's why I'm wearing tennis shoes,'' said Christine Best, 33, of the Columbus suburb of Delaware. ''They slash prices on everything Christmasy. I'm headed straight for the wrapping paper.''
Michael P. Niemira, chief economist and director of research at the International Council of Shopping Centers, said November-December sales growth for stores open at least one year was running a bit below 4 percent. He earlier had forecast 4.5 percent.
Still, at 4 percent, Niemira said it would be the biggest gain since 1999, when he tallied a 5.4 percent increase.
C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C., said post-holiday sales will only help stores that are close to meeting their goals.
''If they're far behind, you can't have one week making up for the rest of the season,'' he said.
A year ago, though, that period accounted for 11.8 percent of holiday sales. It was 10.6 percent in 2001. This year, the nation's retailers are counting on the period to make up for an even bigger share, betting on consumers returning to the malls to redeem their gift cards and buy more merchandise.
Gift cards are expected to account for about 8 percent of total holiday sales this year, according to the National Retail Federation.
But Beemer said stores shouldn't bet on consumers redeeming cards immediately.
According to a recent America's Research Group survey, almost 40 percent of about 800 consumers polled said they would redeem their cards in January, while 38.4 percent plan to redeem the cards immediately. Close to 22 percent said that they plan to use their cards some time next year.
That's a big change from years past, when more than 55 percent polled said they would use them immediately.
''I think a lot of people are going to wait to see how big the sales are,'' Beemer said.