With the holiday rush over, shoppers flocked to Charlotte area malls and retail centers on Monday to use gift cards, make returns and take advantage of deep discounts on winter merchandise.
Debbie Stuart of Gastonia and her granddaughters arrived early enough at SouthPark mall to breeze through the American Girl store before the number of shoppers and browsers picked up. “They received gift certificates from their aunt in Chicago,” said Stuart. Eight-year-old Hailey Stuart, and her sister, Hannah, 4, brought two of their dolls with them to the store, and picked out pajamas, a skating outfit, a blanket and other accessories they'll share.
This is also the time when retail experts take stock of the overall holiday shopping season, and whether spending matched expectations. The National Retail Federation predicted holiday sales in November and December would exceed $655 billion, up 3.6 percent from 2015. This season also featured 31 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas - two more than last year, according to New York-based research firm Fung Global Retail & Technology.
While it’ll take more time to crunch all of the numbers from the 2016 holiday retail season, here are three observations that experts have made so far:
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▪ Online holiday shopping reached new heights. Cyber Monday 2016 is on track to set records as the largest online sales day in history, according to Adobe, which tracks online sales. Shoppers spent $3.39 billion online this year, a 10.2 percent increase.
The online boom meant retailers added fewer workers in October and November compared to other years, according to global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. According to the firm, overall retail job gains over the two months totaled 521,800, fewer than the 604,300 retail jobs added last year.
“As more and more shoppers move online, there is less need for extra workers in the brick and mortar stores,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “...A growing number of Americans are staying home and finding great deals on the Internet.”
▪ Retailers promoted holiday deals earlier and more extensively than last year, according to Fung Global Retail & Technology and Planalytics, which measures the impact of weather on retail. They cite statistics from First Data showing sales increased by 10.4 percent over last year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. A warm November overall helped the first half of the shopping season.
But early signs suggest consumers struggled to stretch their dollars across the longer season. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, 154 million consumers shopped - three million more than last year, according to a survey released by the retail federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. But spending was down: $289.19 per person, down from $299.60 last year.
▪ Although consumer confidence dipped in October during the presidential campaign -- creating some uncertainty about how the retail season would fare -- shoppers rebounded post-election. In November, consumer confidence soared to its highest level in more than nine years.
The survey was mostly taken before the Nov. 8 election. But Conference Board economist Lynn Franco says that “it appears from the small sample of post-election responses that consumers’ optimism was not impacted by the outcome.”
Monday’s big sales posed the perfect shopping opportunity for Kelly Arroyo, who went to SouthPark with her husband, friend and two children. “We’re just going to go around and buy some gifts for family coming at New Year’s,” she said.
It's a big week for social activity at the mall, SouthPark manager Randy Thomas said. “You still got the the kids out of school, you still got family in town. They’re looking for things to do today. So the mall's a great place to do all of that - to socialize, to look, touch, feel, trade in your gift cards, do a little exchanging while you're here and take advantage of the after Christmas sales.”
Thomas said the holiday sales bustle will continue in upcoming days as retailers look to sell off winter items and plan for spring.
“It’s a good week to move some merchandise for the retailers and clear the shelves a little bit and get ready for all the new looks.”
The Associated Press contributed.
Returning holiday gifts today?
In the retail world, December 26 is a big day for returns on unwanted holiday presents. The Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont offers these tips for smooth returns and exchanges:
▪ Keep your receipts. If you are giving the purchase as a gift, ask for a gift receipt and enclose it with the present. This will facilitate returning the gift.
▪ Monitor the “return clock”. Many retailers may only allow returns within a certain time frame and that time frame usually begins when the item is purchased, not when it is given.
▪ Understand return policies for sale merchandise. Return policies for sale or clearance merchandise may be different than merchandise sold at full price.
▪ Sometimes merchandise purchased online can be returned to a store instead of the online merchant.