Saturday, November 27, 1999

Retailers rejoicing already over holiday sales

Signs pointing to lucrative shopping season

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        On Thursday, Tristate residents were thankful for family, friends and good health. On Friday, they were thankful for food courts, credit cards and big, durable shopping bags.

        The day after Thanksgiving launched another successful holiday shopping season, one that retail-industry watchers predict will be lucrative.

        Called “Black Friday” because it kicks off a period likely to lift retailers to profitability, it is not really the top shopping day of the year, as it is reputed to be. Last year, it was No. 8.

        But it does have ceremonial significance and is a favorite time for family outings. And it is significant for retailers, some of whom generate more than 40 percent of their annual sales in November and December.

        “I'm thankful that I spent on a budget,” said shopper Michelle Irby of College Hill, who loaded up on glassware, roasters and other home goods at downtown Lazarus Friday morning. “It goes up more and more for me every year.”

        This year, Friday was expected to begin a bang-up season — perhaps the best since 1994, researchers say. Overall, holiday spending is forecast to increase as much as

        6.5 percent, totaling about $860 a person, according to the 1999 Holiday Mood Survey by Deloitte & Touche and the National Retail Federation.

        Consumers estimate the increase at a more conservative 4.3 percent, or $849 each, the survey shows.

        “I will be happy to limit it to that,” said Jim Dressman of Edgewood, Ky., who came to Tower Place at Carew Tower with his wife and three daughters. “We got here at 9 o'clock and it's been nonstop.”

        But the way people spend is expected to change, reflecting a sense of confidence in the persistent strong economy and low unemployment. Discounters will remain the most popular venue, but the Internet also is making its first serious impact in holiday spending this year — $4 billion from Thanksgiving to Christmas. About $184 billion is expected to be spent in total retail for the season.

        “I believe consumers are value-conscious but are continuing to, where possible, buy up on quality,” said Ed Carey, global leader for consumer business practices at Deloitte Consulting. “People are just very confident with the economy. Unemployment is low; the market is high.”

        Of course, a change in the market could halt shopping as much as a major snowstorm, so merchants are eager to assist shoppers into an early spending spree. Most malls opened at 8 a.m. and closed at 10 p.m. Friday. Department stores and superstores opened earlier. Many featured sales promotions and coupons.

        Home decor superstore Garden Ridge, for example, is operating its Eastgate store for 82 straight hours, from noon Thanksgiving until 10 p.m. Sunday.

        Apparel, toys and music rate as the three most sought-after items this year.

        “Essentially, this is the crazy day,” said Ted Cavelera, assistant manager at Kay-Bee Toys at Towne Mall in Middletown. “This is when we run the most sale items at one time. Anything Pokemon is just insane.”

        Other items that are hot: Fur bies and Dream Cast, a new Sega video game system, Mr. Cavelera said.

        Over at Florence Mall, Jo Ann Wolff of Union, Ky., managed about a dozen stuffed J.C. Penney bags by 8 a.m. Friday. Contents included several teddy bears and purses for some of her 20 grandchildren.

        “I wasn't really shopping for specific items they wanted,” she said. “I let their parents handle that. I just try to do things I think children would like.”

        Several area malls said morning and afternoon traffic ran ahead of that on last year's Black Friday. At Kenwood, shoppers began arriving at 5 a.m. Shoppers hit Northgate Mall at 6 a.m., when Kay-Bee Toys opened.

        “I would say from 6 to 9 a.m. our crowds were larger than normal,” said Cindy Morr, Northgate spokeswoman. “The mall's busy. People are spending. The rainy weather and the cold snap, I think, has helped.”

        Some traditionalists eschewed the malls completely in favor of old-time shopping in historic communities such as Lebanon.

        “I'm looking for some old sconces, which you can't find in the mall,” said Melissa McVay of Columbia Tusculum. “The kind of things I want to decorate my house I can't find at the mall, period. This is a great place for me.”

        Experts predict discount stores will maintain their reign as the most popular shopping venues, followed by superstores and catalogs. But traditional department stores, which rank fourth in attracting consumer share, rate second in terms of where the most money will be spent.

        Discounters rank No. 1 in attracting dollar share as well as consumers.

        Carol Davidson of Florence was among the cost-conscious, hitting the malls for bargains. She figures she's saving about 50 percent by shopping the day after Thanksgiving because of the sales. On Friday, Ms. Davidson started at 6:30 a.m. at Jo-Ann Fabrics, then went to the Lazarus Home Store at Florence Mall, then to Sears (“It's a madhouse in there”).

        “Actually, I'm cutting down this year, because I can't afford it,” she said.

        Whether the gift is a bargain or a carefully selected antique, most gifts Tristaters receive won't be purchased for a few weeks. Traditionally, the Saturday before Christmas is the biggest shopping day of the season, and the days leading up to Christmas follow in an assorted order.

        Last year, just 9 percent of surveyed consumers bought gifts during Thanksgiving weekend, according to the trade group International Council of Shopping Centers.

        “We're a country of procrastinators,” said Malachy Kavanagh, spokesman for the ICSC. “Even if they say they aren't (procrastinators), they won't shop until the last minute.”

        Cliff Peale and David Eck contributed to this report.

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