Make your list and check it twice: Holiday shopping hits the shelves

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A compressed shopping season has forced retailers to get an early jump on the holidays, but the economy – not the calendar – may be the Grinch that steals Christmas 2002, says a Purdue retailing expert.

Richard Feinberg, consumer scientist, says the crowds shoppers will encounter in malls can be attributed to the 26 shopping days in the official 2002 retail holiday season – the fewest number of holiday shopping days possible.

Depending on the date of Thanksgiving, the number of shopping days ranges from a high of 32 to a low of 26.

Not official. “Holiday season is traditionally considered to be from the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas,” Feinberg said.

“No law says that you must count this as the official season, though. In fact, the shopping seasons start earlier and earlier as retailers realize that they cannot wait for consumers to come into their stores.”

Based on an analysis of data from the National Retail Federation, the International Council of Shopping Centers, the International Mass Merchants Association and the Purdue Retail Institute, Feinberg has issued preliminary 2002 shopping season predictions.

Particularly aggressive. This year, Feinberg says retailers will be particularly aggressive in sales and promotions because of the short selling season, the slowdown of consumer spending and increased competition.

With increased competition from stores and catalogs, Internet retailers, in particular, must create a compelling reason for consumers to shop early.

Retailers generally start pushing for Christmas business Nov. 1 with in-store promotions and sales. But, Feinberg says the first shot of the new season was actually fired by QVC and the Home Shopping Network, which began having special Christmas shopping hours at the end of September.

Consumers also started receiving their first holiday catalogs a full month before the traditional Nov. 1 kick off of the shopping season.

Black Friday. Many consumers still start their holiday shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Retailers refer to this day as Black Friday, so called because stores historically see sales and profits that put them out of the red and into the black.

Legend has it that Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year. While that may be true in terms of number of shoppers, Feinberg says it is only the fifth busiest shopping day when measured by sales volume.

Busy, busy. The busiest shopping days of the year this year, based on historical data, will be (in order):

* Dec. 21.

* Dec. 23.

* Dec. 14.

* Dec. 20.

* Nov. 29.

Thanksgiving weekend accounts for 10 percent of holiday shopping sales.

The month of December accounts for the other 90 percent of Christmas season sales: Dec. 2-7 (13 percent), Dec. 8-14 (16 percent), Dec. 15-20 (21 percent), Dec. 21-24 (30 percent) and Dec. 26-31 (10 percent).

The last-minute rush the week before Christmas accounts for 35 percent of all holiday sales. More than 60 percent of shoppers hit stores during the last week.

The holiday sales season accounts for 37 percent of annual retail sales and up to 65 percent of retail profits, Feinberg said.

Consumer mood. “Holiday sales have more to do with consumer mood and economic situation than the number of days, and these indicators are not good,” he said. “There is less growth in Americans’ disposable income, high economic uncertainty, high energy prices with the expectation for even higher prices, volatile markets, low stock prices and reduced consumer confidence.

“These factors add up to a very weak holiday spending season. I estimate that holiday spending growth will be in the low single digits and, for most retailers, less than last year.”

Shop by numbers. Other holiday shopping numbers for 2002 include:

* Fifty percent of holiday sales will be in malls.

* Two hundred million consumers will shop in the mall during the holiday season.

* The last good year for retail holiday sales was 1992, when there was a 9.2 percent increase in sales from the previous year. Last year it was 3 percent.

* Most malls unveil holiday decorations Nov. 1.

* The average number of full-time Santas employed in a mall is one.

* The average number of part-time Santas employed in the mall is one.

* The average number of pictures taken with Santa in a mall is about 11,000.

* The number of malls that will extend their shopping hours is 98 percent.

* There will be 10 billion holiday catalogs – about 50 per household – mailed out.

* Consumers will spend almost $800 billion during the holiday season.

Astrological act. “Leaner retail inventories mean less upside potential,” Feinberg said. “So even if all the stars were aligned and the forces of the universe were helping retailers, retailers will have less to sell.”

Also contributing to Feinberg’s “Grinchy” shopping forecast is that there seems to be no new and hot fashion item/statement to help traditional department stores.

Feinberg said those retailers who have been doing well this year will disproportionately do well in the holiday shopping season. Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and Target will have the best holiday performance among large retailers, he said.

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