Shoppers in downtown Seattle on Dec. 22. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Shoppers in downtown Seattle on Dec. 22. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Shoppers spending more may make a merry season for retailers

Stores need to keep adapting to how people shop as spending moves online.

By Anne D’Innocenzio

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Shoppers who are feeling good about the economy and spending more than expected on items like kitchen gadgets, toys and coats could make this the best holiday season in several years.

That’s good news for retailers, some of which have had few reasons of late to be merry. But there’s no question that stores need to keep adapting to how people shop as spending moves online. Customer sentiment could shift again based on how they feel the tax overhaul is affecting them. Tax cuts mean some shoppers may have more money in their pockets, but they could opt to save it instead of spend it.

Experts have issued rosy forecasts for the season. Shoppers seemed to be in the mood as unemployment is at 17-year low and consumer sentiment has reached its highest level since 2000.

“I feel confident and optimistic about spending this year,” said Jorge Nova, of Miami, as the shopping began on Thanksgiving weekend, when he lined up at Best Buy and bought a 65-inch TV. “I don’t really have a clear budget. It’s been a good year for me.”

Shoppers were spending at a pace not seen since the Great Recession, says Craig Johnson, president of retail consulting group Customer Growth Partners. Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation, predicts retail sales will meet or exceed the trade group’s holiday forecast. That could mark the best performance since 2014. And Tom McGee, CEO of the International Council of Shopping Centers, believes mall traffic and sales were higher than last year as shoppers bought electronics, clothing and toys.

The week leading up to Christmas was critical for stores, accounting for more than 20 percent of traffic for the overall season, says ShopperTrak, which monitors foot traffic. Because of the calendar this year, with a full weekend leading into Christmas, retailers also saw more late shoppers.

“I procrastinate every year,” said Rick Daigneault, of Warwick, Rhode Island, who was just starting his shopping last Sunday at his local mall. “It never fails. Christmas Eve, I’m always at CVS looking for stocking stuffers.”

Another last-minute shopper, Brittany Williams, 27, was loading up on gifts for her niece and nephew at an Atlanta shopping center the Saturday before Christmas. She didn’t buy online because she was afraid packages wouldn’t arrive on time for the holidays. “I waited too long and I don’t want to take a chance of it not arriving when I need.”

First Data, a payment technology firm, puts online sales growth at about double the level at stores. Some analysts have said they expect a large portion of the holiday growth to go toward Amazon, which has been expanding into new areas and putting more kinds of retailers on alert. Amazon had said that Cyber Monday was the biggest shopping day in its history but didn’t provide figures.

Estimates suggest the online behemoth accounted for more than 60 percent of all U.S. online sales that day, compared to just under 40 percent on average for the year to date, according to Bain & Co.

Stores are working to adapt. Target increased weekend deals that started in mid-November, and Macy’s revamped its loyalty program for its best customers.

But plenty of stores are struggling. Fifty retailers have filed for bankruptcy this year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Many of them very small companies but some are well-known brands like Payless ShoeSource and Toys R Us. There have been nearly 7,000 announced store closures this year, according to Fung Global Retail & Technology, which exceeds the 2008 peak of 6,200.

But most department stores, which have been struggling over the past three years, seem to have held their own. Macy’s Inc. announced in early December it was adding an extra 7,000 holiday temporary workers because of strong traffic. And some specialty clothing chains like Urban Outfitters and American Eagle Outfitters have said that holiday sales have been strong.

While a good season gives stores a boost in confidence and shows their investments are working, they need to keep up with shoppers. Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics LLC, is skeptical about whether the momentum will continue through 2018 and wonders if retailers will be able to drive enough foot traffic to make each store profitable.

Plus, McGee and other analysts say it’s still unclear how exactly the tax changes will affect consumer spending.

But McGee does expect shoppers will feel comfortable about spending with more money available.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

FILE - In this Monday, March 23, 2020, file photo, a worker walks near a mural of a Boeing 777 airplane at the company's manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash., north of Seattle. Beginning in 2024, some 737 planes will be built in Everett, the company announced to workers on Monday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
With 747 out, Boeing to open new 737 Max line at Everett’s Paine Field

Since the last 747 rolled out of the factory, speculation has been rife that Boeing might move some 737 Max production to Everett.

IonQ will open a new quantum computing manufacturing and research center at 3755 Monte Villa Parkway in Bothell. (Photo courtesy of IonQ)
Quantum computing firm IonQ to open Bothell R&D center

IonQ says quantum computing systems are key to addressing climate change, energy and transportation.

Nathanael Engen, founder of Black Forest Mushrooms, sits in the lobby of Think Tank Cowork with his 9-year-old dog, Bruce Wayne, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Growing green mushrooms in downtown Everett

The founder of Black Forest Mushrooms plans to grow gourmet mushrooms locally, reducing their carbon footprint.

Barb Lamoureux, 78, poses for a photo at her office at 1904 Wetmore Ave in Everett, Washington on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Lamoureux, who founded Lamoureux Real Estate in 2004, is retiring after 33 years. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Barb Lamoureux, ‘North Everett’s Real Estate Agent’ retires

A longtime supporter of Housing Hope, Lamoureux helped launch the Windermere Foundation Golf Tournament.

Bothell
AGC Biologics in Bothell to produce new diabetes treatment

The contract drug manufacturer paired with drug developer Provention Bio to bring the new therapy to market.

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019 according to a report released Wednesday Jan. 1, 2020, by the aviation consultancy To70, revealing the worst crash for the year was an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX on March 10 that lost 157 lives. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)
US board says Boeing Max likely hit a bird before 2019 crash

U.S. accident investigators disagree with Ethiopian authorities over the cause of a 2019 Boeing 737 Max crash.

Store owner Jay Behar, 50, left, and store manager Dan Boston, 60, right, work to help unload a truck of recliners at Behar's Furniture on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Behar's Furniture on Broadway in Everett is closing up shop after 60 years in business. The family-owned furniture store opened in 1963, when mid-century model styles were all the rage. Second-generation owner, Jay Behar says it's time to move on. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Behar’s Furniture in Everett closing after 60 years

“It’s time to move on.” The small family-owned store opened in 1963 and grew to cover an entire city block.

Katy Woods, a Licensed Coach, Branch Manager, and experienced Banker at Coastal Community Bank.
Coastal Community Bank Offers Classes for Businesses

To support local business owners and their teams, Coastal offers complimentary Money… Continue reading

Innovative Salon Products online fulfillment employees, from left, Stephanie Wallem, Bethany Fulcher, Isela Ramirez and Gretchen House, work to get orders put together on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, at the company’s facility in Monroe, Washington. The company began including pay, benefits and perks to its job listings over a year ago, well ahead of the new statewide mandate to include a pay range on job postings at companies with over 15 employees. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New state law requires employers to give pay range in job postings

Washington’s new pay transparency law aims to narrow wage gaps based on race or gender — though some companies may seek loopholes.

Paddywack co-owner Shane Somerville with the 24-hour pet food pantry built by a local Girl Scout troop outside of her store on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
An out-paw-ring of support: Mill Creek pantry feeds pets, day or night

With help from local Girl Scouts, the Mill Creek pet food store Paddywack is meeting the need for pet supplies in a pinch.

Kelly Cameron is the woodworker behind Clinton-based business Turnco Wood Goods. (David Welton)
Whidbey woodworkers turn local lumber into art

In the “Slab Room” at Madrona Supply Co., customers can find hunks of wood native to the south end of Whidbey Island.

Siblings Barbara Reed and Eric Minnig, who, co-own their parent’s old business Ken’s Camera along with their brother Bryan, stand outside the Evergreen Way location Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, in Everett, Washington. After five decades in business, Ken’s will be closing its last two locations for good at the end of the year. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Print it or lose it: Ken’s Camera closes after decades caught on film

The local legend, processing film photos since 1971, will close its locations in Mount Vernon and Everett at the end of 2022.