Shoppers, stores count down days

By Dennis Seid / NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – With Christmas less than a week away, shoppers have been packing malls, shopping centers and stores.
But the buying is hardly over. Notorious last-minute shoppers think they still have plenty of time, while bargain-hunters are hoping retailers will roll out deeper 11th-hour discounts.
And according to the latest Consumer Reports poll, more than 25 percent of shoppers expect to continue shopping until Dec. 23 or later, including 10 percent who expect to finish on Christmas Eve.
Still others enjoy the frenzy that is the holiday shopping season.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Tina Marggetti, who had three bags in one arm and two in the other on Thursday as she left The Mall at Barnes Crossing. “You just get out there and take care of business.”
Others aren’t quite as enthusiastic but were braving the elements – and the crowds – out of necessity.
“I’ve still got a couple of things left to buy, but it’s not something I have to get right this minute,” said Karl Wasserman, who was at the mall with three of his kids. “We’ve got Mom her gifts but we’re still looking for the grandparents. It’s not too crazy out here during the week, but the weekends are unreal.”
With a slew of positive economic reports last week, plus a strong November retail sales report, analysts have been bullish about holiday spending.
The National Retail Federation and research firm ShopperTrak both raised their holiday forecasts last week.
The NRF said it expects sales to rise 3.3 percent from its original projection of a 2.3 percent increase. That would put holiday sales at $451.5 billion, close to the $452.8 billion spent three years ago at the start of the recession.
According to ShopperTrak, a burst of spending happens 10 days before Christmas, a period that accounted for more than a third of holiday sales last year. It expects holiday sales to rise 4 percent over last year, up from its earlier projection of 3.2 percent.
The Saturday before Christmas has been the mall’s busiest shopping day of the year the past few seasons. Yet, mall officials expect the shoppers to continue flooding in this week.
“We’re having a really good season,” said mall Marketing Director Cindy Childs. “Black Friday was awesome and it just continued on from there.”
Angela Powell, the store manager of the Build-A-Bear Workshop, said customer traffic has been higher than expected since the store’s opening in early November.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response from Northeast Mississippi, from Alabama and even people from Tennessee,” she said. “We’ve been really pleased. We’ve had lots of good feedback.”
Government figures released last week showed retail sales for November rose a better-than-expected 0.8 percent over October.
“This will be a good season,” said mall General Manager Jeff Snyder. “Usually the week after Black Friday, there’s a lull in shopping. This year was super strong. This year is easily the best in several, several years. Confidence is back.”
Store inventories are not as depleted as last year, when merchants were scared about having too many leftovers and began the season with skimpy offerings. The scant merchandise made it hard for some shoppers to buy even a strand of lights in early December.
A few hot sellers are hard to find, according to Karen MacDonald, a spokeswoman at Taubman Centers. And those seeking some of the hot toys like Mattel Inc.’s Monster High dolls will have a hard time, though Toys R Us says it will keep getting daily shipments of the season’s hot toys.
“We are in very good stock position,” said Kathleen Waugh, a Toys R Us spokeswoman. “We picked the right toys. We’ll be ready around the clock.”
At Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City on North Gloster Street, Assistant Manager Jason Green said customers are coming into the store with their minds set on what they want to buy.
“We’ve been selling a lot of TVs this year, probably better than expected,” he said. “They’re buying big-screen TVs – 46 inches to 55 inches or more – and the 3-D sets, too.”
Bundled packages – televisions sold together with game systems such as a Sony PlayStation 3, for example, or sold with a BlueRay player – also have sold well, he added.
Back at the mall, Santa Claus’ helpers say the big man has had little down time to relax, as kids from across the region have had their pictures taken with him while delivering their Christmas wish lists.
“It’s been as busy this year as it has ever been,” said one of Santa’s assistants.

Carlie Kollath and The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.