Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

Local stores see decent holiday business in disappointing year
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Dec 28, 2012, 16:18

photo by Caitlin Davis Hopewell’s main street was decked out with lights for the holidays.

Early reports indicate that holiday season sales this year slumped for the first time since 2008.

Although sales finished strong in the week before Christmas, according to a report released by ShopperTrak, a counter of retail foot traffic. The Dec. 27 report said that for the week ending Dec. 22, sales increased 39.1 percent and traffic increased 32 percent from the previous week.

Even with that increase,the numbers are still down from last year, with retail sales dropping 2.5 percent and foot traffic declining 3.3 percent.

MasterCard Advisors Spendingpulse, which collects information on purchasing, has indicated that sales increased by a scant 0.7 percent, far less than the three to four percent growth analysts expected.

Despite the disappointing trend in national figures,Tony Steele, store leader for the JCPenney store in Southpark Mall in Colonial Heights, was pleased with the holiday shopping season and saw improved figures over last year.

“Overall, our holiday season went really well,” Steele said. “It was better than expected, which is always good.”

According to the ShopperTrak report, “Super Saturday,” the Saturday before Christmas, was the second-busiest day of the year for retailers after Black Friday. Steele said JCPenney saw shoppers arriving early this year, coming in the last week of Oct. and the first week of Nov.

“A lot of [shoppers] started early,” Steele said. “We had a very early Christmas this year, which was incredible and to see it kind of pan out evenly over the last couple days prior to Christmas Day was incredible as well.”

In a report released by the National Retail Federation based on a survey completed by BIGinsight, on Dec. 13, it a reported 56.5 percent of people had completed their holiday shopping. That figure was up from 46.5 percent the same time last year. The NRF said it was also the highest number reported in the survey’s 10-year-history.

Steele said he thinks sales numbers in his store started to increase due to the conclusion of the election and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“Overall when it was all said and done I think customers felt a little bit more open to spending money more than they did this time last year which to me is a great indicator that things are going in the right direction and I don’t think that anybody couldn’t see that,” Steele said.

Nationwide, the residual effects of Sandy and the looming “fiscal cliff” were two of the possible culprits blamed for the slower-than-expected retail season.

Steele attributed JCPenney’s steady shopping traffic to a new pricing system that was unveiled earlier this year. The pricing is now rounded to the nearest dollar and there are only three price points: regular, everyday, and clearance. Steele said those are the only discounts the store needs and said that merchandise is discounted 30 to 40 percent from day one of being on the sales floor.

“This time last year we were famous for doorbusters and waking people up at 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock in the morning and now [shoppers are] able to come all month long or everyday and get the same price,” Steele said.

For Petersburg resident Katie Jones, Christmas shopping was all about the budget. Jones looked to the days following the holidays as an indicator of just how much she was going to swipe her card for.

“I looked for bargains,” Jones said. “I think I did pretty good, I really do. I had bills coming up in January that I needed to worry about first.”

Jones said she spent less this year than she did last year and was at the mall on Thursday looking for bargains at the after Christmas sales.

“I have always been a wise spender,” Jones said. “I still budget. That’s the way it’s always been for me.”

Even with Christmas decorations still up in the mall, Steele said JCPenney is already looking towards the spring fashion season and is in the process trying to clear out the store.

“Our clearance started 30 to 60 percent off the day after Christmas,” Steele said. “Which yesterday was a great indicator that the season is going to go really well.”

Channel Winston, of Petersburg, was holding just one, small bag in her hand as she walked through the mall on Thursday.

“I am still looking,” Winston said. “I haven’t any great sales yet. There are good sales in department stores but store wise? No.”

Like Jones, Winston cut back on her spending this year. She blamed a lack of discounts.

“There were no good sales in the area,” Winston said. “The only thing I would really go out and buy is clearance.”

Holiday shoppers also turned to small businesses. In a report by Small Biz Trends, small businesses reported a 5.2 percent increase in November over last year.

Evan Kaufman, director for The Hopewell Downtown Partnership, said several businesses downtown reported an increase in sales for the holiday season.

“I think it was a little improvement for some of them,” Kaufman said. “I know sometimes it can be tough because I don’t think people know or realize that they can shop in downtown Hopewell for the holidays. We have lots of good stores, antiques, gifts, tactical, flowers, all those kind of stores.”

Lisa Wiggins, owner of Gardner’s Gate, was busy over the holiday season and not just because of holiday items such as wreaths, poinsettias and trees.

“We were extremely busy,” Wiggins said. “It’s holiday, and for us it’s not just holiday because you have so many things in between: weddings, funerals, parties, birthdays. It’s all there, so we were extremely busy for all of it.”

Nevertheless, Wiggins said sales were fairly stagnate compared to last year. She noted she did not so much see a change in overall sales, but in items sold.

“There’s some things we sold more of this year and some things we sold less of this year and it’s just more of a sign of the times kind of thing. We sold a lot of traditional Christmas centerpieces...people at Christmas time will lean towards the traditional. We commented today, we didn’t sell a whole lot of fruit baskets which people know, some people don’t, but I guess that was eaten up by Edible Arrangements.”

Wiggins hopes to see the traffic increase in her store and all of downtown Hopewell. She said small businesses offer something that large department stores cannot.

“Because we’re a small business in the downtown area, we like to think that when you come to us we extend that personal touch,” Wiggins said. “There are things down here that people really need to treasure because if they don’t use them and they don’t shop there, they are going to disappear and that’s just the nature of the business.”

It is that small business touch that Kaufman is hoping to play on for next year’s shopping season, when he hopes consumers will consider the difference between shopping at a mall versus shopping in a small business.

“You are not going to be able to get a pleasant experience,” Kaufman said. “You’re not going to be able to interact with the owner of a store who’s knowledgable about what they sell and be able to have social interaction with your community members.”

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