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Cooler temperatures help remind shoppers Christmas is nigh

Kohl's hardline associate Trey Hill stocks a men's pajama display Nov. 23, 2016, in preparation for the store's Thanksgiving weekend sales. Kohl's opens at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.
Kohl's hardline associate Trey Hill stocks a men's pajama display Nov. 23, 2016, in preparation for the store's Thanksgiving weekend sales. Kohl's opens at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. jvorhees@macon.com

As much as it might mean to retailers to have what people want to buy for Christmas in their stores and at the right price, something entirely out of their control seems to make people actually ready to go Christmas shopping.

It’s the weather.

“People do it year round really, but they usually start Christmas shopping in early October, but due to the warm weather it kept them away longer than usual,” said Macon Kohl’s manager Nathan Leonard. “Being 80 degrees outside, it’s kind of hard to wrap your head around buying a sweater.”

So because Middle Georgia has had such a warm fall, Leonard said he’s kept “summer products on the floor a little longer.”

“I’ve had sweaters since the beginning of October, but I didn’t put on the full push until the beginning of November because people just weren’t looking for that,” he said. “We had an increase in sales over goals the last two weeks ... The weather kind of threw off people’s timing. People didn’t realize how close it was, and all of a sudden it’s here. ... I can’t even believe it’s here already.”

Bud Turner, president of Dry Falls Outfitters and B. Turner’s, agrees that weather is a big factor in getting people in the mood to shop for Christmas.

“Until we had that first cold weekend last weekend, we’ve seen that the customer counts were down,” Turner said. “As soon as the cold weather came in we went back to normal. Weather certainly has a direct correlation … as the temperature goes down, store profit goes up.”

The weather kind of threw off people’s timing. People didn’t realize how close it was, and all of a sudden it’s here.

Nathan Leonard, manager of Kohl’s in Macon

If the temperatures are above normal in Georgia through Christmas, “I think you’re going to see a lot of promotions,” he said. “It might be a real good year for the consumer if it stays this warm.”

Down slightly nationwide

Nationwide, 55.7 percent of shoppers had started Christmas shopping prior to this week, down slightly from the record 56.6 percent at the same time last year, according to a survey reported by the National Retail Federation. But 44.3 percent had not started shopping as of Monday.

But this weekend, including Black Friday, which is traditionally one of the busiest shopping day of the year, about 137.4 million people are planning or considering shopping, the survey reported. And 21 percent of those shoppers plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day, about the same as last year.

With a better economy, consumers are not as eager to shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, according to a news release from the Federation. “With better economic times today, there is less pressure to wait for sales,” it said. “The internet has lured more consumers with the convenience of shopping from home.”

The Federation has forecast holiday sales in November and December to increase 3.6 percent over last year to $655.8 billion. This is significantly higher than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent and above the seven-year average of 3.4 percent since recovery from the recession began in 2009.

$655.8 billionHoliday sales forecast

Diana Saddoris, the manager of Toys R Us in Warner Robins, said the store saw “a really strong October,” because a lot of people came in to take advantage of the store layaway plan.

“We have had a lot of layaways,” she said. “It helps out a lot of families. ... They have until December 15 to pick up their layaways.”

Some stores, such as Kohl’s, will open Thursday evening and not close again until Friday night. The Macon store is open from 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and remain open for 30 hours.

Toys R Us will open at 5 p.m. Thursday and will not close again until 11 p.m. Friday, Saddoris said. This is the third consecutive year it’s opened at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Turner said the employees at Dry Falls and B. Turner’s were given the choice to volunteer to work Thanksgiving, and if enough people signed up then the stores would open. Both stores are at Macon Mall, and a smaller Dry Falls is in The Prada shopping center on Forsyth Road.

“We got enough people to volunteer so we will open,” he said. Both stores will be open 6-11 p.m. Thursday. Dry Falls will reopen at 6 a.m. Friday and B. Turners will open at 7 a.m.

Social media seems to be the most significant variable for how well the stores are doing, he said.

“The biggest change over the last couple of years has been social media, and we’ve been able to create a lot of traffic by using social media.”

Saddoris said Toys R Us is expecting a strong December for sales.

“Because of Christmas falling on a Sunday, you are going to have Christmas Eve on Saturday, so I think that will be a big day for us,” she said. “And with Thanksgiving coming a little earlier ... they will get a couple of extra days to shop between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Eggs that hatch is a hot toy this year

What makes a toy a must-have this year depends a lot on who’s on your Christmas list.

One of the hot toys is the Hatchimals — eggs that hatch birds after they are cared for and encouraged to hatch. Then the birds can be trained to move, dance, repeat words and play games.

The toys are so hot that they are in high demand already. Toys R Us will have a few Hatchimals to sell when the store opens Thursday, Saddoris said. The stores have been getting a few at a time and she expects to get more in before Christmas, but “they have been in very high demand.”

Other hot toys are trolls, especially since a new Trolls movie came out, and PJ Masks, a new super hero character.

“One thing we get a lot of inquiries about is the Power Wheels Wild Thing,” a battery powered vehicle, she said.

Leonard at Kohl’s said anything with the latest technology is a hot item, including Fitbits and drones.

“It’s all about technology right now,” he said.

But Turner said he couldn’t think of any particularly hot item in stores this year.

“The only thing hot is this year’s thermometer,” he said.

Linda S. Morris: 478-744-4223, @MidGaBiz

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