Too soon to be making a list and checking it twice? Some in the retail industry say Christmas shopping is already starting.
National trends show that more consumers are getting a head start on holiday shopping this year. Several Spokane-area retailers report early shoppers seem to be already easing into the season, albeit at a slower pace than national data suggest, preferring to buy unique gifts in stores and browse online ahead of bigger shopping dates.
This year, the National Retail Federation is forecasting an increase of up to 4 percent in retail sales for the months of November and December. That’s slightly higher than 2016’s actual increase of 3.6 percent and the five-year average of 3.5 percent.
In a forecast published earlier this month, Kiplinger, a Washington, D.C.-based publisher of business forecasts and personal finance advice, said that this year, 45 percent of shoppers plan to begin hunting for gifts this month, compared to one-third last year at this time.
Kiplinger also estimates online sales to grow by 18 percent this year over last, with 72 percent of consumers planning to at least look for gifts on Amazon, regardless of whether they’ll buy something there.
Bryn West, general manager of River Park Square, the big urban shopping complex at 808 W. Main downtown, says it’s common for early holiday shoppers here to focus more on specialty gift items.
“We do see early holiday shoppers at gift stores like Pottery Barn and William Sonoma,” she says. “When it comes to clothing retail, consumers tend to shop closer to Christmas when the seasonal fashions become available.”
West says this year the mall is expecting a 2 percent increase in holiday sales, slightly below the national outlook.
“We typically run just a bit below the national forecast,” she says. “And we’re currently still hiring for seasonal retail positions.”
Doug Tweedy, a Spokane-based regional labor economist with the Washington state Employment Security Department, says retailers here begin hiring for the holiday season at least three months early.
“Holiday hiring usually peaks in October but continues through the next two months,” he says. “So far, we’re seeing a slight increase in hires compared to this same time last year.”
Tweedy says in recent years, consumer demand for on-time delivery of online orders also has increased the demand for non-store retail jobs in transportation and warehousing.
“Retail employment is holding steady, even though more are choosing to shop online,” he says. “But non-store retail jobs are already running 200 jobs ahead of last year.”
West says River Park Square has picked up on the increased consumer interest in online sales and promotions, and is working to do more to help retailers here with their online presence this year.
“Recently, we partnered with Nordstrom on something they call the style board,” she says. “It’s an online platform that sends customers fashion ideas via text message and they can click the items they like.”
West says Nordstrom’s style board sales still contribute to the local economy, as purchases made online are attributed to specific store employees who suggest items to shoppers.
“It’s like having a personal shopper sending you ideas, which makes shopping really easy,” she says.
Looking ahead, West says the mall is excited for the Nov. 1 opening of the new Pendleton store on its second floor, an addition she says will enhance the mall’s retail landscape.
“It’s always fun to open a new store,” she says. “It just adds to the excitement of the holiday season.”
Pendleton is a Portland-based textile manufacturer known for creating blankets and wool clothing for men and women. The company also manufactures bags and accessories as well as furniture and other home products.
West says the mall also plans to partner with Riverfront Park to host special events as part of the grand opening of its new ice ribbon, which is expected to occur this holiday season.
Other downtown Spokane storeowners say they too have noticed that early holiday shoppers tend to be out-of-towners, or individuals who’re looking for one-of-a-kind gifts.
“I think holiday shoppers really crave those special items that match people on their list,” says Susan Connolly Carmody, owner of Jigsaw Boutique, a women’s clothing store at 601 W. Main.
“Spokane is one of those niche environments where you find that kind of thing,” she adds.
While she hasn’t noticed many early holiday shoppers, Connolly Carmody says she is aware of shopper’s added comfortability with online purchases, with many of her customers being quick to buy or reserve items they like before the holidays.
“We have some web presence, although we don’t mass merchandize that way,” she says. “But people who’re familiar with us know if they see something they like, it’s best to purchase now or put the item on layaway, because it may not be here next time they’re in town.”
In keeping with national trends, Connolly Carmody says she anticipates up to a 4 percent increase in holiday sales this year over last. “We’re expecting a great holiday season,” she says.
Andy Dinnison, who owns both Boo Radley’s, at 232 N. Howard, and the neighboring Atticus Coffee & Gifts, says he agrees this year’s shoppers seem focused on buying simple, personalized gifts, rather than a longer list of items.
“The trend this year is something called lagom,” he says. “It’s a Swedish word that essentially means living with less.”
Dinnison says he also expects downtown construction to impact sales again this year, with projects like the Macy’s building remodel and Riverfront Park still moving toward completion.
“Last year’s holiday season was good despite the construction, so we’ll see how that factors in,” he says. “It’s always hard to speculate.”
Although he hasn’t seen a lot of early holiday shoppers yet, Dinnison admits it’s not unusual for those who do stop in to be thinking of the season already.
“There are always a few early holiday shoppers, especially around Veteran’s Day weekend,” he says. “Most like to try to spread things out financially, which means getting started earlier. But I’m old school, so I try not to have Christmas stuff out until after Thanksgiving.”
Another Spokane business anticipating strong holiday sales is longtime Spokane electronics retailer Huppins, at 8016 N. Division, on Spokane’s North Side.
“We’re doing well so far this year and expect a robust holiday season,” says the store’s owner and president Murray Huppin. “Both online and in store sales are strong, and we’ve also seen growth in our number of home installations.”
Huppin, whose family has owned the business since 1908, says it’s hard to predict if customers will start holiday shopping early, or whether they’ll prefer to purchase in store or online.
“It’s really hard to anticipate that,” he says. “But I do think sales for products with voice connections will be popular holiday items this year, at least when it comes to electronics.”
Huppin says some of the retailer’s hottest items currently are wireless speakers with voice assistance, and wireless headphones.
“Televisions also are a strong holiday product, particularly with the start of basketball and football seasons,” he says.
Joel Barbour and his wife, Tori, are co-owners of The Great PNW, a business that sells clothing items and accessories with region-themed designs.
Barbour says the business, which has been in operation for almost five years, is primarily an Internet retailer with 65 percent of its sales being online, and the remaining 35 percent consisting of sales to wholesalers in the region.
“There are probably up to 60 retailers in the Northwest who carry our products, and we’re projected to hit $1 million in total sales by the end of this year,” he says.
Like most retailers, Barbour says The Great PNW’s busy season falls within November and December, with sales in those months generally exceeding projections.
“The retail industry has created pre-holiday shopping dates like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, in order to plan marketing and encourage consumers to buy,” he says. “And I think some people probably start shopping early in part because those days are so well marketed.”
In fact, Barbour estimates The Great PNW makes up to three times its usual amount of sales on Cyber Monday alone.
“Consumers are just waiting for that day,” he says. “A lot of people do find online shopping easier than in-store, especially with options like same-day shipping and free shipping.”
While most area retailers report increased interest in online ordering options, Barbour says a newer trend he’s picked up on is the growing number of customers who’re choosing to order via mobile devices.
“That’s where social media marketing, and ease of use really comes in,” he says. “A customer browsing their phone sees something they like on Instagram, clicks the link, goes to checkout, and the item is sent that same day.”
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