Christmas is about five weeks away, but Santa Claus has already set up shop at one Middle Georgia retailer.
With the jolly old elf’s arrival, the Christmas shopping season has begun, said Tom Moody, general manager of Bass Pro Shops off Bass Road in north Bibb County.
“It started Saturday, and it’s been non-stop since so far,” Moody said. “The cold snap helped us out too. When the temperatures are dropping down the way they are ... we’re selling a lot of outerwear.”
Moody said he expects an increase in sales over last year “based on our preparation, on the way I see the consumer is ready to buy and just on the products we are advertising.”
He’s not the only one.
Retail and economic experts are optimistic this will be a good holiday for retailers.
The National Retail Federation reports it is expecting 2014 holiday sales to hit nearly $617 billion, an increase of 4.1 percent, a healthy gain over last holiday season’s 3.1 percent increase. This excludes automobile, gas and restaurant sales.
This would be the first time since 2011 that holiday sales increased more than 4 percent, according to the Federation.
Sales in November and December can account for as much as 30 percent of a retailer’s annual sales and make up nearly 20 percent of the industry’s annual $3.2 trillion in sales.
The average shopper plans to spend $804, up almost 5 percent from last year’s actual $767, the Federation reports.
“Retailers could see a welcome boost in holiday shopping, giving some companies the shot in the arm they need after a volatile first half of the year and an uneventful summer,” Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a news release. “While expectations for sales growth are upbeat, it goes without saying there still remains some uneasiness and anxiety among consumers when it comes to their purchase decisions. The lagging economic recovery, though improving, is still top of mind for many Americans.”
The Federation’s Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in the release that while there is still room for improvement, “consumers are in a much better place than they were this time last year, and the extra spending power could very well translate into solid holiday sales growth for retailers; however, shoppers will still be deliberate with their purchases, while hunting for hard-to-pass-up bargains.”
While Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- has traditionally been the biggest shopping day of the year, its sales are diluted by online shoppers, early shoppers and stores opening on Thanksgiving day.
While some retailers are fairly new to opening on Thanksgiving, Bass Pro Shops has been doing it for about 10 years, Moody said. The Macon store will be open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Thanksgiving day. The national outdoor retailer asks its employees for volunteers to work that day, and the company caters a meal for them from S&S Cafeteria.
The store, however, still offers its traditional Black Friday specials, such as $10 fleece pullovers, $10 jeans and $10 flannel shirts, he said. It will open at 5 a.m.
Barnes & Noble Booksellers Inc. at The Shoppes at River Crossing is expecting to see an increase in shoppers this year, said Community Business Development Manager Cindy Daniel.
“We are really excited this year,” Daniel said. “It seems a little more crowded. ... People are coming out early this year.”
The store hired more seasonal workers this year than in 2013, but Daniel said the company doesn’t allow her to give specific percentages or numbers.
“For us the big trends are in toys and games,” she said. “People are still buying books -- hard- and soft-cover books.
She said “George W. Bush: A Biography” is expected to be a big seller this Christmas.
But shoppers will not be able to pick up Christmas gifts at Barnes & Noble on Thanksgiving day.
“We are still resisting,” she said. The store opens at 8 a.m. on Black Friday.
“We are ready, we are excited,” Daniel said. “We are hoping it will be a great shopping season.”
Coles Hull Doyle, marketing director for Macon Mall owner Hull Storey Gibson Companies LLC, said the company is “gearing up for a strong holiday shopping season” at the mall.
“The economy is slowly recovering, and we are seeing that impact year after year around the holidays,” Doyle said. “The holiday shopping season is also starting earlier this year. The mall is opening at 6 p.m. (Thanksgiving day), which is in line with many department stores and big box stores across Macon. Many retailers are starting big holiday sales before Thanksgiving and are anticipating large shopping crowds throughout the week, not just on Black Friday.”
The mall will remain open from Thanksgiving Day until 10 p.m. Black Friday.
Another boost just in time for the holidays, the consumer comfort index recently was the second-highest since January 2008.
Even though wages have remained steady, lower prices at the gas pumps are helping lift consumers’ moods, according to a Bloomberg News report.
“Confidence among those earning less than $50,000 a year increased to the highest level since August 2013,” the report stated.
Greg George, associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Economic Analysis at Middle Georgia State College, said the predicted boost in retail sales was anticipated.
“Retail sales have been sluggish over the past few years so we have been expecting a rebound,” George said in an email.
Moderating gas prices is a major factor for the expected increase in holiday sales because it “puts more money in consumers’ pockets,” he said.
However, “one factor that needs to be understood is that the gains in retail sales are based on both the expected quantity of merchandise sold and the prices,” he said. “What it doesn’t tell you are anticipated margins and underlying costs. It is possible that sales and costs could climb at the same time, rendering any positive impacts on retailers irrelevant.”
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.