Sacramento-area residents apparently were ready to celebrate the holidays this year, opening their pocketbooks to spend on gifts and dining out.
While receipts are still being counted and consumers are expected to shop through the New Year’s Day holiday weekend, local retailers said they were pleased with the Christmastime consumer rush.
“Early indications are most businesses are up double digits this holiday season,” said Gloria Wright, general manager of the Palladio at Broadstone shopping complex in Folsom. “It was a very busy season around Palladio, with fewer last-minute sales but lots of last-minute shopping.”
Kathilynn Carpenter, executive director of the Sunrise MarketPlace business improvement district, said consumer traffic was “up from everything I saw, and I’ve been here 15 years,” with customers out much earlier this year.
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The district encompasses merchants along Sunrise Boulevard between Arcadia Drive and Madison Avenue, and along Greenback Lane between Birdcage Street and Fair Oaks Boulevard and includes Sunrise Mall.
“What we did see this year was shoppers coming out a lot earlier. And I mean early, like right after Halloween,” said Carpenter. “There was a lot of traffic in the (Sunrise) mall and throughout the district during the last week before Christmas, and Christmas Eve was very busy. It seemed like shoppers started early and took their time to get what they wanted.”
Carmichael resident Elaine Smith, using her gift cards in a post-Christmas run through Sunrise Mall this week, agreed that her fellow shoppers started early and demonstrated buying savvy throughout the season.
“Veterans Day was just packed, here and everywhere I went. It looked like the Black Fridays in the old days,” she said. “I felt like more people were shopping right up to Christmas Eve this year. They were being smart, looking for bargains ... The big stores like Macy’s and Penney’s had a lot of things marked down. There were definitely deals out there, and I always had to stand in line at the register no matter what time I shopped.”
Jamie Donley, a spokeswoman for Arden Fair in Sacramento, said early signs indicate that customers increased their holiday spending from last year.
“We’ll know more in mid-January, but just getting the word from our retailers now, our guests were spending more on their shopping this year,” said Donley.
Sacramento-area consumers also spent on meals for themselves and their out-of-town guests, based on a random sampling of local restaurants.
At Rudy’s Hideaway, the steak and seafood destination that opened in Rancho Cordova in 1972, owner Steve Ryan said “it was definitely a great December. I would say that we’re somewhere like 15 percent ahead of last year, which also was a very good year.”
Rudy’s Hideaway traditionally has been open for business on Christmas Day, and Ryan said the restaurant had its best Christmas Day ever this year.
It’s a big switch from the recession, when dining-out traffic dipped so significantly that Ryan introduced small plates, combo meal deals and discount dinners to bring customers into the eatery. At one point, Ryan even pulled off the menu the 16- to 20-ounce lobster tail that used to top $60.
“What we noticed this year is that people were ordering the biggest, most expensive items on the menu. So, they were not only ordering more, but the more expensive items as well,” Ryan said.
Ryan said he believes an improving local economy has prompted the dramatic change.
“I talk to my customers a lot, everybody from roofers to dealership workers to construction workers, and it’s just different,” Ryan said. “Back in (the recession), you couldn’t get work done. Now, the people I talk to say they’re backlogged up to eight months in some cases. That’s a big change.”
The local holiday spending spree dovetails with the national trend, although numbers are still being tabulated.
Kathy Grannis Allen, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation, said official figures won’t be out until Jan. 15, when the federal government is scheduled to release its December sales estimates. The federation had forecast a 3.7 percent year-over-year increase in holiday spending this year, equating to $630.5 billion nationwide and surpassing the previous 10-year average of 2.5 percent.
MasterCard Advisors this week released its own calculation. It said U.S. retail sales rose 7.9 percent between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, compared with the same period in 2014, with women’s apparel and furniture seeing the biggest gains. For all of November and December, sales were up 4.6 percent. Online sales grew a whopping 20 percent year-over-year.
The MasterCard group said its figures were compiled from credit-card transactions, plus consumer surveys on spending with cash and checks.
“We saw some very promising trends. The double-digit growth in furniture sales, for instance, shows that consumers are willing and able to splurge on big-ticket items,” said Sarah Quinlan, a senior vice president with MasterCard Advisors. “ECommerce’s rise is a solid indication of an empowered and savvy shopper. We’ll be watching to see if this behavior continues into 2016.”
Online shopping giant Amazon.com said this week that its “21st holiday was a record-breaker.”
Amazon said that more than 3 million people worldwide joined its Prime program during the third week of December alone. The $99-a-year loyalty program includes unlimited free two-day shipping, and the Prime Now program touts two-hour delivery in more than 20 select metropolitan markets. Amazon said Christmas Eve this year was the biggest day ever for Prime Now deliveries.
The company also pointed out that nearly 70 percent of its holiday season customers shopped using a mobile device.
New York-based marketing and branding expert Peter Schaub called that “the most remarkable game-changer ... Just think, the Amazon option didn’t even exist 25 years ago. That really represents the massive change we see today in holiday shopping patterns.
“Today, even if you go to the mall and don’t see crowds buying deeply discounted merchandise, that’s not the whole picture. So much shopping is done by mobile device or online that shoppers in brick-and-mortar stores are just a part of a much larger, more complex machine.”