Holiday shopping: Retail outlook expected to be better than last year

Monday, December 18, 2006
Customers lined up to pay for their purchases at the J.C. Penney's store at West Park Mall at about 5:30 a.m. on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, considered to be one of the busiest shopping days of the day. (Don Frazier)

Local retailers, chambers of commerce officials and others in the know say the retail climate for the holiday season is healthy, but the final figure on money spent won't be known until next year.

Dr. Bruce Domazlicky, director of Southeast Missouri State University's Center for Economic Research, said the forecast for spending is decent, but it's not a huge forecast over last year.

That reflects a recent report by the National Retail Federation, which estimates holiday sales will rise about 5 percent this year to $457.4 billion. That sales forecast is based on an economic model using indicators such as previous monthly retail sales reports, unemployment and housing data. The price of energy is also figured in.

Domazlicky said he's seen some predictions that are promising, but this year will probably not be a blowout. "I'd say it's going to be pretty decent," he said, adding this is a very competitive time of year for retailers. He said stores are going to do everything they can to draw people in, and "everybody's going to be chasing those dollars."

Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce president John Mehner said the easiest way to gauge the current retail scene is to ask retailers themselves. He said official sales tax revenue for the holiday season won't be available until next March or April.

Bridgett Johnson, left, and her daughter Jasmine Johnson, 12, shopped for bargains at the Penney's store located in West Park Mall recently. (Don Frazier)

"Our tax figures are always 60 to 90 days behind the month people want to know about," he said. "It takes that long for the state to process everything and contact us and the city. But I'm hearing good things out there. Gas prices are lower so I think that will have a good effect on people getting out there with more money in their pockets."

Diane Diebold, Cape Girardeau County collector, agreed with Mehner that there's no way to know at this point if sales tax revenues will be higher or lower than last year. She said most retailers are required to report their incomes once a month, and some retailers report their earnings quarterly.

"Locally, we're just not going to know how the retailers really did until early next year," said Diebold. "You'd just have to talk to some to get an idea how things are going."

Marybeth Williams, president of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce, said businesses in town appear to be pretty busy. She said she was one of the shoppers on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving weekend traditionally accounts for 10 percent of holiday sales nationwide.

"I visited a lot of businesses that are chamber members, and things looked good to me. I think it is going to be a good season for merchants. Everyone I run into has an optimistic outlook. There are a lot of cars parked in front of businesses ... that's always a good sign."

Lindsey Church, marketing director at West Park Mall, said retailers there are quite busy and have been since the shopping season officially kicked-off.

Ashley Stevens, center, of Cape Girardeau paid Best Buy cashier Mindy Hendrix, right, for her purchase as other customers wait their turn to check out on Black Friday in November. (Don Frazier)

She said the aisles at the mall are full of special-themed kiosks that sell such things are yearly calendars and ornaments. She said there are a lot of unique retailers that have great gift ideas.

"Kiosks are fun to visit, and our regular stores are also getting a lot of visitors," said Church.

At JCPenney, store manager Sarah Grigaitis said the momentum from Black Friday is holding up.

"We're still going strong and there's no sign of it letting up," she said. "I think the mild weather has attracted some people who might not want to come out. Sales of gloves and caps are down because it hasn't been that cold, but traffic has been really good in other merchandise."

At Best Buy in Cape Girardeau, more than 1,000 shoppers waited in long lines to get into the store on Black Friday. Once inside, they bought up plenty of computers, LCD display televisions, CDs, DVDs, video games and cell phones. And business has remained quite brisk, according to a spokesman at corporate headquarters.

Patricia Ann's in downtown Cape Girardeau sells lots of gourmet foods, wines and gifts. Saleswoman Jo Boettcher said the holiday season started off at a very fast clip, and she thinks momentum is building as Christmas approaches.

"Business sales have been good all year but there has been an increase starting with Thanksgiving weekend," she said. "People have Christmas on their minds, so we get a lot of people here who look around, get ideas, buy things, or they come back later after they've decided what they want.

Boettcher says Patricia Ann's traditionally sells lots of cards and candles this time of year, and she thinks those sales are up over last year at this time.

Paul MacDougall opened PMac Music on William Street in Cape Girardeau 10 years ago. He said his busiest time of the year is the week before Christmas. He said there was a noticeable increase in business on Black Friday, but the day after Thanksgiving is not as big a day for him as it is for the big-box stores."I'm a small store, but I can compete with the big boys -- especially in the days leading up to Christmas. I'm all stocked up and expecting a big rush," he said. "People like to give new CDs as gifts and sometimes wait until the last minute. So I'll be doing a lot of overnight special orders."

According to the National Retail Federation, retailers have gone all out this year with special promotions and big sales to bring in shoppers.

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