Sacramento-area consumers appear ready to spend this holiday shopping season, and many retailers are once again accommodating them with extended store hours and a blizzard of advertised bargains.
“Based on our Veterans Day traffic, which was extremely busy, I think we’re going to have a good holiday season,” said Jamie Donley, senior marketing manager for Arden Fair mall in Sacramento.
At Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights, Carmichael resident Penny Carter said she was ready to “open up the pocketbook a little more this Christmas. ... We’ve been kind of holding back for a few years, but our kids are growing up and the economy is better, so we’re planning to spend more and make this year special.”
The National Retail Federation has projected a 3.7 percent year-over-year increase in holiday spending this year – which equates to $630.5 billion nationwide – which would easily surpass the previous 10-year average of 2.5 percent and represent nearly 20 percent of the U.S. retail industry’s 2015 sales of about $3.2 trillion.
While NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay cited strong consumer spending this fall and an improving economy, he warned that “Americans remain somewhat torn between their desire and their ability to spend. The fact remains (that) consumers still have the weight of the economy on their minds. We expect families to spend prudently and deliberately, though still less constrained than what we saw even two years ago.”
Consequently, Shay added, “retailers will be competitive not only on price, but on digital initiatives, store hours, product offerings and much more.”
In the Sacramento area, retailers and mall operators are following that battle plan in earnest.
Stores and shopping malls throughout the area will have Thanksgiving hours and early openings on Black Friday.
Donley said Arden Fair will be open from 6 p.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving Day and then reopen at 6 a.m. on Black Friday for a 16-hour stint. Donley noted that the mall’s Macy’s, JCPenney and Forever 21 stores will be open at times beyond those marathon hours.
Numerous local stores have been touting pre-Black Friday sales of merchandise. Toys R Us, Kmart and Sears are among the big-name retailers that have offered early-bird discounts. Amazon.com has likewise gotten off to an early start, promoting “Countdown to Black Friday Deals” all this month.
For the first time in its history, Walmart will be offering Black Friday deals on numerous items – including televisions, video game consoles and small appliances – beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Thanksgiving.
Retail analysts have said that Walmart’s unprecedented move is indicative of pressure the retailing giant is feeling this holiday season, as it has seen its stock price erode significantly this year. Analysts pointed to aggressive marketing and deep-discount deals by Amazon.com for putting Walmart on the spot, along with ramped-up holiday season marketing from Target.
“There’s no question that Walmart is on the hot seat,” said Peter Schaub, a New York-based marketing and branding expert. “Walmart’s troubles are relative when you look at other big retail operations, but Amazon’s heavily marketed delivery services and low prices are forcing Walmart to respond online and in its brick-and-mortar stores.”
Schaub and other analysts predict that consumers can expect to see generous discounts on a wide range of merchandise from Walmart, Target and others throughout the holiday season.
That’s just fine with Sacramentan Kathy McDonald, who was browsing brightly colored soaps last week in the Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics store in Arden Fair.
“I consider myself a value shopper,” McDonald said. “I read all the ads and compare prices, so I’m not real loyal when it comes to certain stores. If one store has the best price, that’s where I’m going to get it.”
I consider myself a value shopper. I read all the ads and compare prices, so I’m not real loyal when it comes to certain stores. If one store has the best price, that’s where I’m going to get it.
Sacramento shopper Kathy McDonald
At Westfield Galleria at Roseville, Gary Williams of Citrus Heights said he too was hunting bargains “but I’m willing to spend a little more this year. ... It was so depressing during the recession. Some of the stores felt like graveyards. I want to save money, but things feel like they’re getting back to normal now.”
NRF spokeswoman Kathy Allen said the long Thanksgiving weekend shopping spree – which now includes Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday – actually took off at the tail end of the Great Recession.
“I think it is very safe to say that the recession is one of the biggest reasons that we’re now seeing Thanksgiving Day openings,” she said. “Back in 2009-10, the idea was to creep into the early morning hours as soon as possible. If your competitors opened at 6 a.m., you opened at 4 a.m. It was just another way for retailers to be first, to get a leg up on the competition.”
Not every retailer will be open on Thanksgiving Day this year. Those previously announcing that they would resist temptation and remain closed include Costco, T.J. Maxx, Sam’s Club and Crate & Barrel.
Local shoppers are divided on Thanksgiving Day store openings.
“Thanksgiving is still sacred at our house,” said Carly Anderson of Sacramento while shopping at Arden Fair. “Early Friday is fair game, but Thanksgiving is family time.”
Standing near a 40-foot-tall Christmas tree at “Santa land” near the entrance to Nordstrom at Arden Fair, Sacramento shopper Evelyn Osteen said she sees “nothing wrong with Thanksgiving Day shopping. You just have to time it to your schedule, and every time I’ve done it, there are big crowds.”
Retailers quietly contend that there is another advantage to getting an early start on Thanksgiving Day: It decreases the chances of a mad, sometimes dangerous crush of shoppers running into stores when doors open in the early hours of Black Friday.
Arden Fair spokeswoman Donley said “our retailers see (Thanksgiving Day opening) as obviously successful, as they continue to do it and shoppers keep coming. I think different shoppers do different things. Some come to shop after their turkey dinner, and there’s a mixed group of Thanksgiving shoppers that start at midnight.”
Also part of the post-recession trend is the relentlessly rapid growth of holiday shopping online. The NRF projects online sales of $105 billion this year, which would be an improvement of about 8 percent over 2014.
Amazon.com is the 800-pound gorilla in online sales, but big-box retailers are aggressively touting their sites, for pre-Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday shoppers on Nov. 30.
“Retailers actually don’t care where you shop as long as you shop with them,” said the NRF’s Allen. “They’ve made efforts to improve all of their shopping options. And retailers have already given consumers several good reasons not to wait until Thanksgiving weekend.”
By the numbers
Holiday shopping in 2015
- Buying spree: The National Retail Federation projects nationwide seasonal sales of $630.5 billion, up 3.7 percent from 2014.
- Ship it to: The NRF forecasts up to $105 billion in online sales, an 8 percent year-over-year increase.
- What’s hot: Consumer electronics and gift cards are expected to remain popular this year; among toys, Star Wars items are expected to easily drive merchandise related to Disney’s “Frozen” movie from its 2014 No. 1 spot, a byproduct of the December release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
- Jobs: About 750,000 seasonal hires nationwide
- Early start: An NRF survey found that nearly 57 percent of U.S. holiday shoppers began making their 2015 purchases before Veterans Day.
Sources: National Retail Federation, Bee research