Modest crowd hits stores the day after Christmas

December 28, 2003|JIM LOGAN

If retailers were looking for a surge in sales the day after Christmas, a quick survey of local stores suggested they could disappointed.

At the Wal-Mart SuperCenter in Danville, the crowds Friday and Saturday were modest. Even the line to return merchandise was short, usually containing six or fewer people.

One of them was Gloria Jeffries, who had a box of candle vases.

Through some kind of weird luck, Jeffries received three boxes of the vases, enough to light up a small medieval church. But, living in Hustonville, Jeffries' needs were more modest. One box had to go. How did she pick the reject?

"I close my eyes and pick one up," she said Friday.

Elsewhere, at larger stores such as Kmart, JC Penney and Goody's, there were no signs of frenzied shopping, and only a few returns.


The busiest place, relative to size, might have been Carol's Bridal and Gift Boutique in Danville. The store was jammed late Friday morning.

Carol Senn, the store's owner, said the day after Christmas is the her busiest day of the year, but it's not just for post-Christmas sales.

"We start our annual dress sale for the day after Christmas for all the brides who got engaged for Christmas," she said.

And though proms are five months away, the store's two-week sale on dresses attracts families who take advantage of the its 90-day layaway plan.

While sales in the Danville area appeared modest, deep discounting drew crowds to malls elsewhere in the country.

Macy's offered discounts of up to 75 percent on many items throughout the store Friday and Saturday.

This holiday season, luxury stores such as Neiman Marcus have enjoyed robust sales, while mid-priced department stores have fared the worst. Even discounters like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have struggled with muted sales gains, as low-income consumers still haven't benefited from the economic recovery.

Michael P. Niemira, chief economist and director of research at the International Council of Shopping Centers, said that same-store sales growth for the combined November-December period is currently tracking a little bit below his reduced 4 percent forecast.

Still, even if holiday same-store sales come in a bit below Niemira's trimmed projections, he said it would still be the biggest gain since 1999, when his tally posted a 5.4 percent increase.

Same-store sales - or sales at stores opened at least a year - are considered the best indicator of a retailer's health.

Clearly, the week after Christmas has become increasingly important. A year ago, that period accounted for 11.8 percent of holiday sales, up from 10.6 percent in 2001. Some stores are counting on the period to make up for an even bigger share, betting on consumers returning to the malls to redeem their gift cards and buy more merchandise.

Typically, stores don't record gift card sales until consumers redeem the value of the card. Gift cards are expected to account for about 8 percent of total holiday sales this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

But Beemer said stores shouldn't bet on consumers redeeming cards immediately.

According to a recent America's Research Group survey, almost 40 percent of about 800 consumers polled said they would redeem their cards in January, while 38.4 percent plan to redeem the cards immediately. Close to 22 percent said that they plan to use their cards sometime next year.

That's a big change from years past, when more than 55 percent polled said they would immediately use them.

"I think a lot of people are going to wait to see how big the sales are," Beemer said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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