September 28, 2012

Retailers expect slight growth in holiday sales

It’s not yet October, but retailers have already spent months thinking hard about holiday shopping.

It’s not yet October, but retailers have already spent months thinking hard about holiday shopping.

Although many foresee a slight increase in seasonal sales over last year, retailers and retail groups say forecasting is trickier than usual this year because of conflicting economic indicators and the uncertainty of major political events.

Nationally, the International Council of Shopping Centers is projecting 2.5 percent growth in November and December sales for shopping centers, and 2.9 percent for the narrower category of stores that sell general merchandise, apparel and accessories, and furniture.

That’s less than the growth seen in 2010 and 2011.

But Christmas 2012 could go higher, council economist Michael Niemira wrote in a statement, if Congress acts early to avoid the “fiscal cliff” – which are a package of massive federal tax hikes and budget cuts set to begin taking effect Jan. 1 if Congress doesn’t modify the deal it reached last year.

J.V. Johnston, owner of Johnston’s Clothier, said he has seen a slight growth in sales so far this year compared to last year, and he expects that to continue through Christmas.

But, he said, one of the biggest helps in getting people to buy will be getting the presidential election over and done with. No matter who wins, he said, holding the election will settle a large amount of the uncertainty that has kept people from buying.

“Uncertainty is worse than bad news,” he said. “People can handle bad news.”

On the plus side for retailers, the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rebounded in September to levels not seen since February. The group said people are slightly more optimistic about jobs and their financial outlook.

Even the big chains are of mixed minds about the holiday season. Kohl’s is hiring 10 percent more seasonal help, while Target is hiring slightly fewer people.

But there is at least one thing for sure, says a Wichita liquor retailer: People like pumpkin spice liqueur.

Cooper Geist, general manager of Auburn Spirits, said the store’s sales have been rising steadily this year, and he expected the growth to continue through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

Part of that increase will be a big increase in the amount of pumpkin spice liqueur sold. He ordered three cases of the stuff last year, and it went long before the holidays were over.

In March, he ordered 15 cases of pumpkin spice liqueur. It’s all part of the doubling of demand that happens over the holidays.

“We’re just hoping to keep enough stuff in the stores to keep people happy,” Geist said.

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