Shoppers hit malls on the day after Christmas, although it may not be enough to buoy retailers
Dec 26, 2012 (Menafn - The Oregonian - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --The day after Christmas is known for inventory-clearing discounts, lines at the exchange counter and wallets filled with gift cards.
At Clackamas Town Center, however, it didn't look like past years. Crowds inside weren't shoulder-to-shoulder as at other metro-area malls and parking spaces could easily be found on what should have been a very busy morning.
Even if not at capacity, a steady stream of shoppers brought a bit more normalcy to the mall stunned Dec. 11 in the midst of its busiest season when a masked gunman opened fire, killing two and seriously injuring a third before killing himself.
The children's play area again was alive with toddlers. Extended families shopped together and regrouped for movies at the mall's theater. Shoppers broke what had been a respectful, relative quiet in the days after the shooting by shouting at each other Wednesday -- often about how they'd spent enough and it was time to go home.
The day was a success for a grieving mall and its community. Yet at many shopping centers across the country, Wednesday's traffic might not be enough to alter what's shaping up to be a season of flat sales for retailers.
MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report, which tracks sales from Oct. 28 through Dec. 24, announced Wednesday that its data shows retail sales grew only 0.7 percent compared with the same period last year. The report, which takes into account sales of electronics, clothing, jewelry and home goods through all payment methods, is a first peek into retailers' success. If the data holds true, this season would be the weakest for retailers since 2008.
More information will be released in coming weeks to complete the picture, including December sales data released next week by big holiday players Macy's Inc. and Target Corp.
"Overall, on a national scope, I think sales fizzled out toward the end," said John Jost, owner of Excalibur Cutlery & Gifts, a Eugene-based chain of nine stores including one at the Clackamas mall.
Jost said traffic at his Clackamas store was down Wednesday and in the days following the shooting. He said other stores there are experiencing similar trends. However, he said, his online sales online this season grew by 50 percent over 2011.
Indeed, online shopping this holiday season continued its upward trend for more retailers -- in one area, at least.
A national compilation of sales records from Chase's 50 largest online retailers reported the number of web transactions was up 24.3 percent from last year between Oct. 29 and Dec 25. Still, average ticket amounts continued a decline -- this season by 7.3 percent -- a movement Chase blames on free shipping offers and consumers' quest for low prices.
Overall, the National Retail Federation projected sales in November and December will total 586.1 billion, a 4.1 percent increase from the 2011 season. In addition to sales tracked by MasterCard, the trade group accounts for food, building supplies and auto parts purchases.
At Clackamas Town Center, friends Jesse Seibert, 25, and Britt Showstak, 23, were out helping retailers' cause. They'd expected the crowds would be crazy and joked they should know better than to be out, as they both work in retail.
But Showstak was surprised at how easy it was to find a parking spot. The pair, both from Southeast Portland, hadn't hesitated to go to the mall, no matter the recent violence there.
"You just have to keep moving forward," she said. "It's the holiday season and you need new shoes."
Indeed, retailers aren't yet giving up on more shoppers like Showstak.
At a Fred Meyer in Northeast Portland, Christmas ornaments were cleared away to make room for on-sale decoration storage boxes. Long tables in the main aisle offered half-off candy and holiday cards, and 75 percent off reindeer and wreath earrings.
Across the metro area's malls, stores offered a variety of deals. PacSun, a California-themed retailer, discounted everything in the store 50 percent. Children's clothing retailer Gymboree marked down all previously discounted items to 12.99.
Claire's offered 50 percent off other items in the store if customers had their ears pierced; there was a line at Washington Square.
Although the days before the holiday, including Black Friday and the weekend before Christmas, are typically the biggest of the year, this final week can account for as much as 15 percent of the month's sales. On the whole, the final two months of the year can help retailers achieve a year-ending profit.
"We've mostly been doing exchanges, but they bought a few things," said Cheri Thompson of St. Helens, as she left the Tigard mall Wednesday afternoon with a gaggle of teen-age girls.
"We've been here three hours," she said.
"Yeah," added her shopping companion Chris Poland. "Too long."
-- Laura Gunderson
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