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Retailers hoping for shopping surge as Christmas nears

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday sales are being projected to be slightly higher than last year

SIKESTON -- With a week left of Christmas shopping, both national and local retailers are holding out hope consumers are waiting until the last minute to finish buying for everyone on their gift lists.

David Friedman, owner of Falkoff's Men's Shop in Downtown Sikeston, said so far, it looks to be a pretty good holiday season for his clothing store.

"It's hard to tell (how good) until after the season is over," said Friedman, who said he always offers specials and promotions. "The Saturday before Christmas is always a good day, and even a day or two before Christmas are very busy."

The National Retail Federation projected 2008 holiday sales to be 2.2 percent higher than 2007. If NRF's 2.2 percent projection is correct, holiday sales this year would be $470.4 billion.

However, analysts said nationwide, consumers were making fewer purchases than last year. Prices were slashed 50, 60, even 70 percent in an effort to turn reluctant window-browsers into buyers.

"This holiday is going to come whether the economy is up or down," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research group NPD Group. "The customers are going to shop. They may be buying less; they may be spending less."

Traffic levels at stores were comparable to last year, Cohen said, though people were looking for deals but not as willing to spend their money as last year. Discounts were way up and they're going to get bigger as companies try to get rid of their inventory.

Nicole Gardner, manager of VF Factory Outlet at Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores, said the clothing retailer has actually had less customers this year, but people are spending more.

"Our average dollar is higher and traffic is lower," Gardner said after looking at store statistics. "I guess a few people who do have money are spending it."

Gardner said this coming weekend will be the store's last "big sales" weekend of the year.

"The last three weekends before Christmas is our busiest time of the year. There are a lot of procrastinators," Gardner said.

Figures released late Sunday by SpendingPulse pointed to more signs that shoppers are continuing their frugal ways, despite a decent spending surge on Black Friday.

From Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving known as "Black Friday," through Dec. 6, luxury sales dropped 34.5 percent compared to the same period last year while overall apparel sales fell 22.9 percent. Electronic sales fell 22.3 percent.

Debbie Allan, manager of MJs Jewelry and Leather at Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores, said she's noticed the effects of economic woes on holiday shopping.

"It is slower (this holiday season). I've been here 10 years and I can tell. People are being more conservative on their spending," Allan said.

Shori Ferrell, a co-owner of Whimsy in Downtown Sikeston, said she's hoping the Saturday before Christmas will be the biggest shopping day of the holiday season.

"We were really busy the day after Thanksgiving and Saturdays have been busier than throughout the week (in December)," Ferrell said.

Like many retailers, Ferrell said the specialty shop which opened earlier this year has been offering many promotions from 20 to 50 percent off items throughout the store.

Online sales last week fell 1 percent to $3.81 billion from the same week last year, according to research company comScore Inc.

From Cyber Monday on Dec. 1, which marked the kickoff of online holiday shopping season, through Friday, sales were up 3 percent to $8.26 billion from last year, the firm said Sunday. Tuesday marked the heaviest online spending day on record with $887 million in sales, comScore said, adding that it expects online retailers to continue offering discounts on products and expedited shipping to spur sales. It noted apparel and accessories sales were up 21 percent in the first 12 days of December, while books and magazine sales rose 18 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.