Retailers expect a steady increase in holiday sales this year compared with last, with an emphasis on checking items off the shopping list earlier than last year, some say.
Bryn West, general manager at River Park Square, says that overall, the holiday season is expected to be bright.
"We're already seeing the influx of out-of-town shoppers coming in for the holidays," she says, adding that typically visitors don't start showing up in Spokane for holiday shopping until November.
"We're seeing it earlier, though it's not necessarily more yet," she says.
River Park Square plans to start advertising more aggressively for the holiday season this year in an effort to drive more traffic to mall stores, West says.
Jan St. George, owner of Whiz Kids, a specialty retail toy store located at River Park Square, says she expects holiday sales will be better this year than last.
"It just seems people have been pretty confident with their spending all year-round," she says.
The company began talking about holiday orders with its suppliers in June. St. George says the holiday season is the biggest retail stretch for the store, accounting for 30 percent of its sales between Black Friday and Christmas.
The National Retail Federation predicts sales will increase 4.1 percent nationally during the holiday season, saying that the average shopper is expected to spend $750 on gifts and other holiday-related purchases this year, up from $740 spent in the previous year.
The association says this year's individual consumer spending is projected to rise back almost to the 2007 holiday season level of $755 per person, after which it fell to $694 in 2008 from $755. Since 2009, though, spending has been on the rebound.
The association says more than 40 percent of Americans plan on getting a leg up on holiday shopping this year by starting earlier in October.
St. George says she's seeing customers looking at gift options earlier.
"I'm thinking real optimistic that it's going to be better than last year," she says.
Not all retailers expect the holiday season to bring a substantial upswing in revenue for their businesses.
Julie Emery, co-owner of Eclectic Gifts, located at 305 W Second in downtown Spokane, says that if the past few months are any indication, the holiday season won't be as positive as some are expecting it to be. Even so, she says she still remains hopeful.
"This whole year has been horrible," Emery says. "I think the holidays are going to be better than the rest of the year; we're hoping it's going to pick up."
The business sells wine, gift baskets, and gourmet food. Emery attributes some of her feelings about the holiday season to a shifting political landscape.
"I think it's the economy," she says. "It's an election year, people are afraid; people are very frugal right now."
Emery, who says the shop started stocking up for the holidays earlier this month, hasn't seen as much early holiday traffic as she would like to see, but says she's hoping sales and shopper traffic pick up as the holidays approach.
Andy Dinnison, owner of Boo Radley's, at 232 N. Howard, and the neighboring Atticus Coffee & Gifts, says election years often equate to consumers being more cautious with spending.
"It's been a little soft this fall, but it's kind of a fairly widely known fact that retail in an election year is kind of an off year," he says.
He says Atticus is continuing to grow, with the caf bringing in customers, while Boo Radley's is down slightly for this season.
"It seems as if there's a ton of people, but they aren't buying quite as much," he says. "At Boo Radley's, you can't really count those chickens until they're hatched on the 24th."
He says retailers are given more leeway this year with a longer shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Shoppers will have five Saturdays, as opposed to four, to get all their shopping done.
"You have a little room for error there," he says.
The Kiplinger Letter, a weekly business forecast publication, says the addition of another weekend in the shopping season should be a positive indicator for business owners, adding that each additional shopping day during the holidays equates to about $10 billion in sales.
West says she's seeing stores hiring holiday help earlier, adding that the outlook for seasonal employment seems to be strong.
Doug Tweedy, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department, says that agency has already noticed a rise in holiday hiring this month.
"We usually see holiday hiring starting in October," and then increasing steadily through the holidays, Tweedy says.
He says the Employment Security Department predicts there will be a 5 percent increase in retail hiring during the holiday season, compared with last year's fourth quarter hiring numbers.
"We will be better than last year, but last year was kind of a flat year," he says.
Nationally, seasonal employment trends are on par with last year, the National Retail Federation says. The association says retailers this year are slated to hire between 585,000 and 625,000 seasonal employees. Those numbers are on track with last year's 607,500 hired seasonal employees.
Kiplinger predicts holiday employment to be closer to 700,000. Of that number, about half are expected to be full time and turn into permanent jobs.
"Overall, it's a bright picture," West says.
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