Holiday questions begin

This time of year, I start getting media calls about the holiday sales that retailers offer. The holiday shopping season is one week shorter than normal, which matters when it comes to the pace of shopping and how much spare time people have to shop.

Why do retailers open on Thanksgiving Day? There are many different types of shoppers and appealing to them all is the challenge. Not everyone has an all-day family event to attend on Thanksgiving, or wants to sit around the house all day talking to relatives. And, if a parent notices a special price on the perfect gift, making a quick stop at the store might save that family enough money to buy another gift. What about the workers who have to work that day? These folks are making a good wage at time-and-a-half or double time. That’s money they can use for their shopping later. It’s good for everyone — the store, the shopper, the employee.

What about late night or early morning store opening? Crowd control is a challenge when everyone has the day after Thanksgiving off. Retailers have experienced the shopper’s frustration at the long check-out lines and the crowded aisles or the fights over an item in short supply. If retailers can get those same shoppers to enter the store in a more staged fashion rather than all at once, it’s a better shopping experience for everyone.

What’s new for this year’s keen eyed shoppers? Retailers are posting their sales earlier on their web sites. This helps people to plan their shopping strategy and to have more time to think about where they will go to pick up their items. In fact, many retailers now offer free shipping during this time so you don’t even have to make the trip to the store.

When is the best time to get the best price? Each store has their own answer to that. This week Macy’s had a two day early opening at 7 a.m. with the “lowest prices for the season.” That caught my attention and I took a quick trip over to buy my grandson a beautiful puffer coat for $15.99 and the cutest Christmas dress for my granddaughter that was 65 percent off. Now that is a deal. Think about that. One week before Black Friday, they offered their best prices of the season. That’s what you call getting out in front of the other retailers and catching those limited dollars that shoppers have this year.

Will shoppers spend more this year? Not enough to claim a great year for retailers. It remains a soft market with consumers being very budget conscious. That puts a lot of pressure on retailers to compete for those limited dollars. There are plenty of stores competing for the same customer. That makes it good for the consumer and does help bring the total retail sales up a bit as some shoppers cash in on all the good deals. Sales are expected to be up 3.9 percent over last year.

How much will consumers spend online? This is definitely a growth area with sales expected to be up 13-15 percent over last year. It’s about 13 percent of the total sales. I can remember not too long ago when it was 2 percent. Shoppers will spend $82 billion dollars shopping online this holiday season.

Jan Teague is the president/CEO of the Washington Retail Association.

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