With Santa Claus greeting young and old at the Logan Valley Mall, the holiday shopping season is well underway.
Both the National Retail Federation and the International Council of Shopping Centers expect the season will be better than last year.
The NRF is forecasting holiday sales will increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion, but the average holiday shopper will spend $737.95 on gifts, decor, greeting cards and more, 2 percent less than the $752.24 they spent last year.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
Beerbower Jewelers owner Don Beerbower shows a 5-carat diamond bracelet in his Hollidaysburg store.
The ICSC is forecasting a 3.4 percent sales increase, slightly stronger than last year, for the traditional November-December holiday period, even though retailers are expecting a more modest spending season.
"We're going to see a more subdued spending mood from consumers, but what counts is that we're on track to have a better holiday sales season than last year," said Michael P. Niemira, vice president of research and chief economist for ICSC. "With leaner inventories, retailers can expect their prices and margins to remain stable, which is another good indicator of stronger sales."
Retailers are in a strong position.
"They have managed their inventories well after having some hiccups earlier in the year. We think retailers are in a strong position. Shoppers will see more planned promotions. Sales will be strong, and revenues will be strong. Retailers should have a better season than last year," said ICSC spokesman Jesse Tron.
The Logan Valley Mall and Boscov's are expecting increases similar to the NRF and ISCS projections.
The mall is expecting a big start to the holiday season with Veterans Day sales followed by Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday at the end of the month.
The malls' three anchors - Macy's, J.C. Penney and Sears - will open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.
"We will open the mall doors at 8 p.m., but we are not requiring stores to be open. Most will be open by midnight. We understand how important the holiday is, but we need to accommodate shoppers," said Joy Weidel, mall spokeswoman.
With Thanksgiving falling on Nov. 28, retailers will be faced with a condensed shopping season.
"The challenge for us this year is that Thanksgiving is so late. There are six fewer shopping days than last year. On the plus side, we gain an extra day during Christmas week with the holiday being on Wednesday. We may not see the typical eight- to 10-day lull after Thanksgiving because of the condensed shopping period," said Ed Elko, Boscov's senior vice president of human resources.
Don Beerbower, president of Beerbower Jewelers, Hollidaysburg, said that may be beneficial.
"That may be good; it may make things busier each day. People may have more urgency to get their shopping done. Whether that translates into increased sales, it is hard to tell," Beerbower said. "There is a ton of competition in the jewelry industry and with people buying other things."
Beerbower admits he is not sure what to expect this holiday season.
"People still aren't trusting the economy. I don't get a feel of confidence from the customers who come in," Beerbower said. "Three out of my last four months were increases from last year. January through June was down. We are not up to last year. After the last four months, I am positive. I am hopeful that continues for November and December."
Beerbower said with the condensed shopping season, a major winter storm could have a negative impact on business.
Kranich's Jewelers is expecting a slight increase in sales this holiday season.
"There is still a lot of uncertainty about the economy. I believe we will be up, not so much as a function of the economy, but because we are doing a better job of getting the retail jewelry dollars," President Charles Kranich said.
Weidel sees a couple of positive signs.
"Gas prices are on a decline, so more people from throughout the region may be making the trip to the mall. Holiday hiring is up this year, and there is a correlation between that and spending. That could be a trend that benefits us," the Logan Valley Mall spokeswoman said.
According to the NRF, the biggest portion of shoppers' budget will go toward gifts for family members, with the average person planning to spend $415.50 on mom, dad and other loved ones, down slightly from the $423.36 they spent last year.
Additionally, people will spend $72.14 on friends, $23.59 on co-workers and $25.63 on others, such as pets and community members.
Also, according to the NRF, the average person will complete about 39.5 percent of their shopping on retail and other company websites, up from 38.8 percent last year and the highest amount in the survey's history. Shop.org, NRF's digital division, is forecasting online holiday sales will grow between 13 and 15 percent to as much as $82 billion.
Online sales have become important for local retailers.
"People look at items on line and then come into the store. That helps increase traffic. The Internet is our number one store between Thanksgiving and Christmas," Elko said.
"We have a significant presence. It has become a significant part of our business, a growing part of our business," Kranich said.
The vast majority of retailers employ both brick and mortar sales and online sales strategies, Tron said.
"Cyber Monday is a big shopping day, but still behind Black Friday. We expect a tremendous amount of sales on Black Friday, but Cyber Monday is creeping up, and we are aware of that. It is growing faster than the traditional brick and mortar," Tron said.
Gift cards remain a highly requested gift.
According to the NRF, six in 10 Americans - 59.4 percent - said they'd most like to receive gift cards.
"Gift cards are making a comeback. They are a hot item," Weidel said. The cards sold by the mall itself can be used at any place that accepts American Express and do not expire.
"After the holiday,s there are sales and you may be able to get twice as much. That is like a double gift," she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.