Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Shoppers crowd stores as season winds down

Holiday shoppers are racing to the end of the Christmas season at a more feverish pace this year on foot and online.
U.S. retail revenue was up 5.5 percent on Friday through Monday — the last full weekend before Christmas Day arrives, according to the ShopperTrak research firm.

ShopperTrak said Wednesday that retail sales over the Dec. 17-19 weekend accounted for $18.83 billion in consumer spending, with more than one-third of that occurring on Saturday alone.

Some Nashville boutique-style retailers say they also have seen increases in their online sales, and that has boosted their optimism.

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"We've gotten people we would never have seen as customers in our store," said Ashley Tomichek, owner of Corzine & Co., whose offerings include china, home accessories, baby gifts, antique tableware and stationery. "But online pretty much wrapped up last week, and the only last-minute shoppers we're seeing now are the ones coming into our store."

Elizabeth Nichols, chief executive of Taigan.com, a Nashville-based virtual shopping site for boutiques, said orders on its 1-year-old website, which includes more than 80 specialty retailers, have been robust. "I hope it's a sign that the economy is improving," she said.

The Nashville pet accessories store known as "Come.Sit.Stay" didn't have a Web presence last year but has done a booming business online using the Taigan virtual mall so far this year, including "phenomenal sales in November and December," owner Robin Cohn said.

"This gives me a whole new audience," Cohn said. "It started slowly, but now it's really growing, and 99 percent of the online sales are going out of state. It's the icing on the cake for us."

This year's apparent improvement in holiday sales is especially encouraging for retailers.

ShopperTrak expects retail spending to rise 4 percent for the holiday season nationally. It fell 0.4 percent during the 2009 season. Anything over 4 percent is considered a healthy gain.

Nashville malls crowded

The final days leading up to Christmas are important for retailers, and crowds at malls in the Nashville area seemed to be picking up.

On Wednesday, shoppers crowded Cool Springs Galleria at midday, and some shoppers said it was hard to drive to the mall because of congested traffic.

"I like last-minute shopping, but I don't like it enough to come back here on Christmas Eve and fight this traffic again," said Brentwood resident Jean Rich, resting on a bench at the Cool Springs mall in the early afternoon.

Recent data from MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across all transactions including cash, shows Americans were spending more on clothing, luxury goods and even furniture during the period from Oct. 31 through Saturday.

Online spending also has been strong. As of Friday, shoppers have spent $27.46 billion online since Nov. 1, up 12 percent from a year ago, according to research firm comScore Inc.

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