November 22, 2018

Holiday shopping spread out, but it’s getting serious for retailers (AJC) »

Used to be, the morning after Thanksgiving – Black Friday – was the high-pressure start to holiday shopping, pre-dawn pandemonium as consumers crowded into stores for ridiculously low prices on limited, but highly desirable items.

This year, as always, there will still be “doorbuster” sales and special offers. But much of the shopping pressure has been released.

The holiday season is now spread out over more time — for weeks, there have been carols playing on loudspeakers, trees set up in malls and Starbucks Christmas blend on the shelves. And it extends deep into cyberspace, where the stores are always open.

Nearly half of consumers surveyed in the past few months had said they were planning to start shopping before Thanksgiving, according to Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group.

“We used to have people standing line for days for a Barbie dollar or a Tickle-me-Elmo,” said Tina Vanalstine, manager of the Walmart on the Atlanta Highway in Alpharetta, one of 70 Walmart stores in metro Atlanta.

But, even without the lines that go on for days, she said, “I think it will be a great holiday season. The customer flow hasn’t slowed down at all.”

Her Walmart opens at 6 a.m. Thursday, with cookies and coffee at 4 p.m. and the Black Friday specials kicking in at 6 p.m.

With consumer confidence high and incomes rising, experts agree that there will be plenty of spending on gifts and goodies.

Still, it’s been a tough year for some retailers.

The shift to online has already accelerated the consolidation of big retail and hurt the brick and mortar business. So far in 2018, more than 30,000 job cuts have been announced because of bankruptcy by retailers, the largest failure being Toys ‘R’ Us.

More than 4,150 retail stores have closed this year because of bankruptcies, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement and consulting company.

This is the time of year when retailers either make the profits to live another year or die trying.

Womply – a business software company – says Georgia retailers on Black Friday typically see a 72 percent boost from normal sales levels. That makes it the third-best sales day of the year.

And, according to Adobe, a data analytics consulting company, online sales numbers as of Wednesday morning indicated growth of nearly 20 percent since last year.

The company predicts holiday shopping online will reach $124.1 billion.

The upshot is good news for retailers, said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, a business think tank.

“Consumer confidence is at an 18-year high,” she said. “Given the strong economy and job growth – with expectations of more in the new year – retailers should expect strong demand this season, with the potential to be one of the best shopping seasons in years.”

The downside for retailers is that profit margins may shrink, even while revenues rise, Franco said. “They will still face a tough and discriminating consumer – one who is expecting bargains and willing to wait for a deal.”


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