December 26, 2011

Day off, discounts, gift cards encourage Wichita shoppers to head back to stores

Christmas carols were still playing at Towne West Square Monday as stores and people carried the Christmas shopping spirit past the holiday.

Christmas carols were still playing at Towne West Square Monday as stores and people carried the Christmas shopping spirit past the holiday.

The stores were bustling with shoppers such as the combined Todd and Fuller families, four parents and seven children bubbling with energy and good humor.

“We’re making returns and looking for the day-after sales,” said Wayne Todd of Wichita.

“And to get out of the house, let’s be honest,” added his wife, Cindy.

That crew, and more, shared a rambunctious Christmas, and felt the need to spread out a bit. For them, togetherness works in seasonal shopping as well as seasonal rituals.

“That’s what makes it fun,” Kim Fuller said.

There are more reasons than usual to shop the day after Christmas this year.

Last year, Dec. 26 was on Sunday, which meant many stores had shorter hours or were closed.

This year Christmas fell on a Sunday. Many employees had Monday off, meaning tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Wichitans were at loose ends Monday.

Some national experts were predicting that store traffic could be up as much as 60 percent over Dec. 26 last year, according to ShopperTrak, a research firm that monitors traffic at more than 25,000 stores.

“There is potential for a very significant lift” in shopping Monday, ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said.

Retailers have also learned this year that people are willing to open their wallets again despite the slow economy; but they demand discounts to do it. That’s why merchants are being so aggressive in offering specials. Many specials will continue through the week.

The result surprised even the experts. The National Retail Federation had to raise its first estimate for Christmas sales and is now calling for sales in December to rise 3.8 percent, driven in part by discounting.

But what makes after-Christmas discounting so potent is all those gift cards given the day before. Gift cards have become one of the more popular Christmas gifts, according to the NRF.

For shoppers, Monday was a chance for more stuff, either free with a card or at a discount. For retailers, it means more customers buying more stuff, possibly more than they intended.

“All retailers will be promoting, and there will also be new merchandise in stores,” said Jackie Fernandez, a partner in the retail practice at Deloitte & Touche. “Shoppers will come in to spend gift cards, and retailers are hoping the consumer will buy something not at promotion.”

So, this year, shoppers have opportunity, means and motivation to shop after Christmas.

Those shoppers include Larry and Jill Dixon of Wichita. They visited Towne West early in the day.

Larry Dixon agreed that he probably wouldn’t be out, if it were up to him, but he was off work and wanted to share the day with his wife. She, on the other hand, sounded more focused on why she was there.

“I like getting my Christmas cards half off,” she said.

Contributing: McClatchy-Tribune news service

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