Midstate retailers ready for brisk holiday shopping season

lmorris@macon.comNovember 23, 2013 

  • Average 2012 holiday spending per person

    Gifts for family: $423.36
    Candy and food: $101.12
    Gifts for friends: $75.40
    Decorations: $52.18
    Cards and postage: $28.76
    Other gifts: $28.23
    Gifts for co-workers: $23.56
    Flowers: $19.62
    Total: $752.24

    Source: Prosper Insights & Analytics for National Retail Federation

    By the numbers

    3.9 percent: Percentage increase forecast for 2013 holiday retail sales
    $423: Amount the average holiday shopper spent over Thanksgiving weekend in 2012
    129 million: Number of consumers who shopped online on Cyber Monday in 2012
    36 percent: Percentage of “millennials” who shopped on Thanksgiving Day in 2012

    Source: National Retail Federation

While the big deal this holiday may be about national retail stores opening earlier on Thanksgiving Day, some Middle Georgia retailers are not biting.

“That’s not going to happen,” said Michael Jones, co-owner of Ken’s Audio Video Car Stereo and Ken’s Pro Sounds with locations in Macon and Warner Robins.

Ken’s is not even going to open before sunrise on Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving.

Several years ago, the store opened at 6 a.m. on Black Friday -- so called because it’s the day many retailers supposedly go “into the black” and become profitable for the year. But, when Ken’s didn’t really get many customers until about 8 a.m., it changed its hours.

“Most of the time most people go to (the large national retailers) at 4 a.m., and we seemed to get our rush after 8:30 (a.m.) ... and around (noon) it’s really like going gang-busters crazy,” Jones said. The plan is to open at 8 a.m. Friday.

About three years ago some large retailers began opening on Thanksgiving Day, which had a snowball effect. Other retailers joined the fray the next year, and then some stores opened earlier than the year before, so other retailers opened earlier. And the race was on.

A survey by the National Retail Federation showed more shoppers arrived at stores at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving Day than at any other time that day or on Black Friday.

Shoppers can take the blame for the earlier opening times, said John Fleming, director of communications for the Georgia Retail Federation.

“If they hadn’t shown up in such large numbers last year and the year before, we probably wouldn’t be doing it again,” Fleming said. “There isn’t a retailer in the country who wants to see a shopper go and spend money at his competitor’s store and not be open themselves. It’s really being driven by competition.”

This Thanksgiving Day, Kmart is opening at 6 a.m. with Bass Pro Shops opening at 8 a.m. Toys ‘R Us in Warner Robins is slated to open at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Other major retailers such as Macy’s, h.h. Gregg, Target, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and several stores at Macon Mall plan to open at 8 p.m. Consumers should check with the store or local ads to confirm opening times.

Last week, retail giant Wal-Mart changed plans and announced a two-tiered sales launch with the first one beginning at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and the second one at 8 p.m.

As of late last week, Bud Turner, president of Dry Falls Outfitters and B. Turner’s -- both in Macon Mall -- hadn’t decided if he would open the stores on the holiday.

“Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to spend with family, but we may have to staff the store,” Turner said. “It’s always been a good day for movie theaters, so I guess at 8 (p.m.) maybe it makes sense (to open). We haven’t made a decision yet.”

Retailers are scrambling for customers early because for the first time since 2002, Thanksgiving is as late as the calendar will allow, which means there are six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year.

“Black Friday is our Super Bowl, and we plan to win,” Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer for Wal-Mart U.S., said in a release. “With six fewer days from Thanksgiving to Christmas, the retail environment is more competitive than ever. Every opportunity to get a great deal -- whether this weekend, on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday weekend -- matters for our customers.”

Kathee Tesija, executive vice president of merchandising at Target, said in a release the goal is to allow customers to shop “however, whenever they want to shop.”

Also this year, many stores are offering the same sale prices for some products online as in their brick and mortar stores.

Shoppers didn’t have to wait until next week as retailers have already been holding what they call “Black Friday” sales.

“Our holiday purchasing probably started about a week ago,” said Jones with Ken’s. “We started our Black Friday pricing a week ago also.”

This time of year is a big deal to retailers. Sales during the holiday season -- which is November through December -- contribute anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of retailers’ annual bottom line, said Fleming with the Georgia retail group.

“So far we are optimistic about the season,” he said. “Nationally, we’re looking at maybe about a 4 percent increase. ... I think Georgia is going to be in line with that. That’s a pretty good year for us. It’s not a great year, but considering we are sort of climbing out of a deep hole, it would present a pretty good year for retail.”

Macon stores report strong sales so far

The National Retail Federation has announced consumers will continue to take a conservative approach to spending this holiday season.

“The average holiday shopper will spend $737.95 on gifts, decor, greeting cards and more, 2 percent less than the $752.24 they actually spent last year,” according to a news release. The federation “is forecasting holiday sales will increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion.

Turner said he’s expecting a good year, especially at Dry Falls.

“In Macon, Dry Falls has shown a dramatic increase in sales in the last three months,” he said. “The products mix at Dry Falls is very unique in Macon, and they are definitely buying those for gifts, and they want to get them early before they are gone. So, we’re seeing a lot of that early shopping now.

“B. Turners is a more commodity-driven store. People buy for themselves based on the weather until Thanksgiving, when people really start buying gifts in earnest.”

But, as with most apparel stores, the weather could have a big impact on sales, he said.

“We like our inventory position, but heaven forbid if we should have an 80-degree December, then we’ll have to discount coats,” Turner said. “If we have a cold December, I won’t have enough thermal underwear, and I won’t have enough jackets.”

Jones said while some folks are looking “for the cheapest thing they could find,” he’s also seeing customers opening their wallet a little wider this year.

“What’s up so much from last year is the higher-end product, the nicer TVs, the home theaters, bigger car audio system,” Jones said. “Even next door in my Pro Sound store, last year we were selling $100 to $200 guitars, and this year we are selling $400 to $600 guitars. I think (customers) just saved until they could buy a better product.”

Linda Lamb, regional manager for h.h. Gregg in Macon said she thinks “customers are still looking for a great value.”

She said the No. 1 item on most customers’ lists is a tablet this year, and the store is offering a wide price point on that item to fit most everyone’s budget.

And while appliances might not be on anyone’s gift list, a lot of people wait until Black Friday sales to replace their washer or refrigerator, Lamb said.

Richard Cortes, owner of Cortes Jewelers, said he began seeing Christmas shoppers in October. But that has more to do with the nature of his business than anything else.

Cortes specializes in custom-made things, but he makes some items ahead of time for his inventory.

“It takes a little longer to get something made to give as a gift,” he said. “You can’t walk in at the last minute. ... In general, the trend has been -- and I’m sure it will be the same this year -- people are waiting more and more until the last minute. I’ve been doing this 35 or so years, and it seemed like November was always busy, December was busy, but more and more people are waiting until the last week. Now there are so many more outlets for people to shop.”

Online shopping, gift cards increase

The number of customers shopping online and buying gift cards continues to increase.

“E-commerce has continued to climb as a proportion of overall retail over the past several years,” Fleming said. “It’s well over 5 percent now and probably approaching 10 percent of all retail will be an e-commerce transaction. And the really big trend over the last couple of years is smartphone shopping.”

According to the National Retail Association release, about 50 percent of retailers who were surveyed plan to start their Thanksgiving weekend online promotions at least five days before the big weekend.

Gift cards used to be thought of as an afterthought, but that’s no longer the case. Eight in 10 shoppers will look to add these to their gift list, the National Retail Association reported.

Holiday shoppers will spend an average of $163.16 on gift cards this year, up 4 percent from last year and the highest during the past 11 years.

Lamb with h.h. Gregg, said the store has certainly seen gift card sales tracking upward and anticipates the same this year.

“It fits everyone’s needs,” she said.

Fleming agrees.

“That’s something that has been a really significant progression over the past decade or so,” he said. “They used to be impersonal, and the gift cards themselves were ugly. ... But you can get them in different shapes and colors now. They are much more accepted.”

Regardless of whether people shop in store, online or buy gift cards, “retail is still very much discount driven,” he said. “Most families learned over the course of the recession to be very careful with their money and to look for those steals and deals and bargains. I think that is something that’s here to stay.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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