This weekend could make or break the season for retailers who are nervously hoping that last-minute shopping and huge discounts on prices will help them recover from a soft December.
Circulars from the nation’s largest retailers show Sears stores offering up to 70 percent off on fine jewelry and up to 60 percent off on clothes. Macy’s has discounts early today for as much as 75 percent off.
But Friday’s snowstorm and another storm forecast for Sunday in the Capital Region could keep some last-minute shoppers home.
With the adverse weather, recent power outages and dollar-conscious consumers, only 32 percent of merchants surveyed this week by the Retail Council of New York said they are pleased with sales activity in their stores since Black Friday.
Nearly 60 percent of merchants surveyed described their sales in the past two weeks as being below their sales last year for the same period.
“We’re disappointed by our survey numbers, but history shows that it’s the week before and after Christmas that really determines the success of the holiday season for retailers,” said Retail Council President and Chief Executive Officer James R. Sherin in a statement.
Local retailers are hopeful that a last-minute surge by shoppers, despite the snowy weather, will help. Some are even optimistic that the snow will put shoppers in the holiday mood.
“With one week less between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year and the challenge of last weekend’s ice storm, this weekend is far more important than ever,” said Susan Keegan, general manager at Clifton Park Center.
In the retail world, the Saturday before Christmas is crucial, and shoppers are up against the clock as the number of shopping days dwindle, said Keegan, who is anticipating that today will be extremely busy at the mall.
“We are at the point if people have to come out in snowmobiles, they will,” she said.
The mall has 80 tenants this year, compared to 54 last year.
“We have great eclectic storefronts,” she said.
Since there are only 27 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, some people are pressed for time and purchasing Clifton Park Center gift cards. They are available at Times Square near the Regal Cinemas and can used in any shop in the mall. Keegan said bargains abound and retailers have made some drastic reductions.
Shoppers are also taking a more practical approach this year and purchasing coats and sweaters and lower-cost items like books, according to the New York State Retail Council’s annual Holiday Sales Watch Program.
At Borders in Clifton Park, a steady stream of shoppers lined up on Friday waiting to cash out. An informal poll showed that four out of 10 were cutting back on Christmas shopping because of concerns about the economy.
Julie Hill, a nurse from Loudonville, purchased a few cookbooks for family members.
“I’m done. We’re trying to cut down on spending. I have a great job, but I’m still worried about the economy,” she said.
In a bright spot for retailers, another national survey conducted by BIGresearch found that consumers have more than 50 percent of their holiday shopping left to do. Many have not started holiday shopping, with the biggest procrastinators being men (24.2 percent haven’t started) and 18-to-34-year-olds (24.2 percent).
Local business owners like Eric Hoff, who owns Hoff Jewelers south of routes 9 and 146 in Clifton Park, is counting on a last-minute surge.
“I think we will pull through with good numbers,” he said. “The last three to four days is the biggest time for us [with] last-minute shoppers,” Hoff said on Friday.
“We are in a different climate with the economy. It’s hard to base it on any other year,” said Hoff, who has been in business in Clifton Park since 1993.
Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of surveyed merchants said shoppers aren’t relying as much on credit cards for holiday purchases this season but are using cash, personal checks and debit cards more than in recent years.
“Consumers remain in the driver’s seat this holiday season, and retailers are fully prepared to hang on for the ride,” said Sherin. “Merchants will do what they can to encourage cash-strapped consumers to shop by offering fantastic bargains. We remain optimistic that sales will pick up, as they typically do, in these final shopping days.”
Hot sellers for 2008
For girls: Barbie, Disney Hannah Montana, Bratz, Nintendo Wii, other video games, Elmo, Disney High School Musical, Disney Princesses, American Girl
For boys: Video games, Nintendo Wii, LEGOs, cars, Transformers, Elmo, Star Wars, Hot Wheels, remote-controlled vehicles, Xbox 360
For adults: Cold weather apparel, books, CDs, DVDs, video games, Blu-ray DVD players, gift cards/certificates, jewelry and accessories
Source: New York State Retail Council