Retailers don't see many day-after shoppers

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Retailers hoping after-Christmas sales would bolster a lackluster shopping season may be disappointed.

Finding a parking spot was easy and lines were short at West Park Mall mid-day Wednesday. Most people appeared to be window-shopping and carried few purchases.

"Globally, retail is a little slower this year," said Sharon Ebersohl, manager of Macy's at West Park Mall.

The store opened at 6 a.m. with sales in almost every department, especially home and apparel.

The promised slashing of prices was a factor in Barbara Robinson's decision to venture into the mall the day after Christmas, a first for her.

"But I've not found anything that seems to be a good buy," she said.

Nationally, sales rose 3.6 percent between Thanksgiving and Christmas, compared to 6.6 percent in 2006 and 8 percent in 2005, MasterCard Advisors reported in its SpendingPulse report. The report includes estimates for credit, cash and check payments in its analysis of U.S. retail sales.

The rising cost of gasoline -- up an estimated 30 percent over last year -- coupled with a decline in the housing market and a credit crunch are blamed for the modest growth.

While on the lower end of expectations, the sales are not as bleak as some experts initially feared.

A midseason holiday shopping report showed women's apparel sales were down 5.7 percent compared to last year, but by Christmas sales were only down 2.4 percent, SpendingPulse reported.

Last-minute Christmas shoppers also helped boost jewelry and electronic sales.

"The two days before Christmas exceeded what we expected," Ebersohl said.

While day-after-Christmas sales might have fallen short of retailers' desires, they expressed hope sales would continue over the weekend.

"A lot of people went back to work today. And I think a lot of people are conditioned to wait five or six days to make returns when there is less congestion," said Tim Bryant, manager of the Cape Girardeau Wal-Mart.

Bryant compared the day after Christmas sales to a typical Saturday, but said he thought the store was busier than this time last year.

About 75 people waited outside the store for the 6 a.m. opening for 50 percent off cologne sets and Christmas items, he said.

Four check-out lanes were dedicated to consumers wanting to return items, but overall, fewer people are taking gifts back.

According to the National Retail Federation, only 36 percent of people made a return last year, compared to 38 percent the year before.

The reduction in returns may to be attributed to an increase in the use of gift cards.

Terri Hollrah, the sales support manager of J.C. Penney at West Park Mall, said she expects to see a surge of people cashing in their gift cards this weekend.

The National Retail Federation anticipated more than 56 percent of consumers would buy gift cards this year.

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