Sales expected to increase

Holiday shopping may exceed 5-year average

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Tracy McBride of Cortland and her husband, Joseph, do some early holiday shopping at Super Kmart in the Eastwood Mall Complex Friday. The National Retail Federation said a recent survey found 22 percent of people planned to start their holiday shopping in October.

By the time Black Friday rolls around, Lori Petersen already will have the bulk of her Christmas shopping done.

Even so, the mother of three small girls plans to make her rounds again this year — trying to catch, what for her, is that last-minute bargain.

“Some of my friends and family start their shopping on Black Friday, but for me that’s the day I’m usually trying to finish everything up, at least when it comes to buying gifts,” the Niles woman said. “The last thing I want to be doing is spending Christmas Eve shopping.”

Petersen tries each year to get an early start on the holiday season to avoid going over her budget. She also prefers to spread the amount she spends over several paychecks instead of one or two. And she’s not alone.

Of consumers polled for the annual Prosper Insights and Analytics survey, 22 percent said they either had started or were planning to start their holiday shopping in October, while19 percent got an even earlier jump, beginning in September or sooner.

Of the early shoppers, 65 percent said they were trying to spread out their budgets while 49 percent did not want the stress of last-minute shopping and 48 percent wanted to avoid the crowds, according to the survey released last month and done each year for the National Retail Federation.

This year, NRF expects U.S. holiday retail sales to increase between 3.6 and 4 percent, meeting or exceeding last year’s growth of 3.6 percent and the five-year average of 3.5 percent. Typically, retailers report earning about 40 percent or more of their revenue during the holiday season.

“With employment and incomes increasing, consumers are more confident this year and that is reflected in their buying plans for the holidays,” said NRF president / CEO Matthew Shay. “Retailers have been stocking up in expectation of this, and all signs are that this will be a busy holiday season.”

Shay said retailers are preparing for a “rush of consumers leading into Thanksgiving” and through December by stockpiling merchandise and offering a variety of discounts and promotions.

NRF projects that 69 percent of Americans — an estimated 164 million people — are planning to shop or considering shopping over Thanksgiving weekend,

Locally, many shoppers will find their way to the Eastwood Mall Complex in Niles. Joe Bell, spokesman for mall owner Cafaro Co., said the company doesn’t really need to do anything special to accommodate the crowds over Black Friday weekend, which actually starts Thanksgiving Day when the mall will be open 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Mall doors will open at 6 a.m. Friday. Eastwood, with about 16,000 spaces, has plenty of parking, Bell said.

“During the holiday season, we do beef up the staffing for maintenance, housekeeping, security and customer service personnel,” he added.

Quantifying shopping or crowd trends at the mall is tricky, Bell said, because not all retailers are required to report their sales figures to the company, and those that do usually don’t submit them until sometime in January.

Instead, mall officials track vehicles as a way to track shopping trends. For example, on Black Friday last year, 67,535 vehicles entered the Eastwood Mall Complex. That compares to 50,966 the same day in 2015. Bell said he expects mall traffic to increase this year.

Jenny Senn said it’s likely she’ll be among those shoppers. Senn likes to take advantage of the markdowns — especially on bigger-ticketed items like TVs — on Black Friday. The Youngstown woman usually starts picking up gifts here and there by mid-December.

“It’s like a day or night out,” she said. “The kids give us their shopping list and we try to see what we can find on it. We try to pick up one big expensive gift and two or maybe three smaller ones. We have a budget we stick to.”

About 59 percent of consumers surveyed said they planned to wait until November, or later, to begin holiday shopping.

Consumers, according to the survey, indicated they expect to spend an average of $967 this year, up 3.4 percent from the $935 consumers said they’d spend when surveyed at the same time last year.

For some consumers, Black Friday has taken a backseat to Thanksgiving Day shopping as some retailers open their doors on the holiday to give their customers a running start. For example, Target said it will open at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving, but close at midnight. Last year, the retailer’s stores remained open through the night. Most Macy’s stores will open at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving and close at 2 a.m., similar to last year. Its stores will reopen 6 a.m. Black Friday.

But some stores are sticking with marathon shopping hours. Toys R Us will open its doors at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving and remain open for 30 straight hours of shopping. Still others, like Menards, will stay true to their traditions by remaining closed on Thanksgiving. Menards will open at 6 a.m. Friday.

Tina Milner of Warren, who started her year off shopping for Christmas, sometimes visits area stores early Thanksgiving morning. Technically, she already has completed her gift-buying agenda. But the Warren woman still has plans to spend a few hours early Thursday tying up some loose ends.

“I’ll still cruise on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and even Cyber Monday just to see if I can find some deals,” she said.