November 14, 2013

Short holiday shopping season a challenge for Maine retailers

With just 26 days this year, promotions could be crucial to profits.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

From Black Friday to Small Business Saturday to Cyber Monday, there are no lack of promotions for holiday shopping.

click image to enlarge

Maine Mall marketing manager Stephanie Millette puts some finishing touches on the holiday model train display in the center of the mall in South Portland on Tuesday.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Bon-Ton in the Maine Mall already has 40 percent sales on some holiday tree-trimming decorations. It began promoting Christmas on Sept. 12.

And this year those promotions could be more important than usual.

The 2013 holiday shopping season is the shortest possible – just 26 days – because Thanksgiving falls late, on Nov. 28, so retailers have a tighter time frame in which to make money. Tepid sales during this year’s back-to-school shopping period in August – the second biggest retail season of the year – are also driving stores’ push to maximize holiday profits.

The holiday shopping season is crucial for retailers, which get between 20 percent and 40 percent of their annual business during that time, according to the National Retail Federation.

“Of course the holidays are the most important time of the year for all retailers. Black Friday, the largest shopping day of the year, kicks off the holiday season,” said Christine Hojnacki, vice president of promotions and publicity for clothing retailer Bon-Ton. “Black Friday is still the focus, and there will always be that excitement. We’re hoping to attract people who are curious about Bon-Ton and who we are.”

The National Retail Federation expects sales in November and December to total $602 billion, up 3.9 percent from last year. Such an increase would top last holiday season’s gains of 3.5 percent and the 10-year average holiday sales growth of 3.3 percent.

“A 3.9 percent increase is not great, but it’s not terrible,” said Curtis Picard, executive director of the Retail Association of Maine. “The national predictions are often conservative, so there’s a possibility the increases will be higher.”

Forecasts for Maine are not available. Last year total taxable retail sales in Maine for November and December fell 2.6 percent from 2011, according to the state’s Office of Policy and Management.

That puts pressure on retailers to perform well this year and hope for good weather, which can make or break a shopping season here, Picard said.

“The biggest factor in Maine is the weather – it can have a huge impact,” he said. “A poorly timed ice or snow storm can really affect retail results here.”

Consumers are expected to spend an average of $738 on holiday shopping, a drop of 2 percent from last year’s per-person spending, according to the National Retail Federation.

Alex Tregaskis of Portland said he hasn’t started his shopping yet and planned to make some of his gifts to stay under his budget. He declined to comment on how much he planned to spend this year.

“I always aim to spend less,” Tregaskis said. “I try to make things. It’s more personal and cooking and making things is relaxing.”

The most popular gifts are expected to be electronics, such as the Apple iPad Air and the Sony PlayStation 4, and toys such as Sesame Street Big Hugs Elmo and Furby Boom.

Other hot items include cosmetics and fragrances, and cold weather gear and accessories, said Alton Walker, vice president and regional store director for Bon-Ton. The store also expects strong sales of home decor, coffee makers and accessories.

Across the country, many retailers are opening on Thanksgiving evening. Maine, however, is one of three states (with Massachusetts and Rhode Island) that prohibit stores from opening on Thanksgiving, so shoppers here will have to wait until 12:01 a.m. Friday, when stores such as Bon-Ton, Kohl’s and Macy’s will open.

Charlene Delisle of Windham said she tries to avoid Black Friday crowds.

“It’s too much,” Delisle said. “It’s much too crazy on Black Friday – too many people.”

Not everyone braves the crowds on Black Friday, because hefty sales throughout the fall have become common.

“I don’t go out on Black Friday. It seems they have sales throughout the whole season, so there’s no need to deal with all those crowds,” said Lori Buzby of New Harbor. “I would only go out on Black Friday if I thought something might be gone if I didn’t get it then.”

For people shopping for Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday starts on the evening before Thanksgiving this year – a once-every-70,000-years event – so waiting until Black Friday for deals isn’t possible.

Still, the holiday season seems to creep earlier every year, with some radio stations turning to holiday programming on Halloween. Retailers have been trying to lure shoppers into stores earlier in the season with big discounts well before the traditional holiday shopping time.

This year Walmart announced its layaway program Aug. 21. Bon-Ton had its holiday decorations up when it opened its Maine Mall location on Sept. 12. It already has 40 percent sales on some holiday tree-trimming decorations.

“We definitely have more customers who shop earlier and earlier,” Walker said.

Jessica Hall may be reached at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com

Twitter: JessicaHallPPH

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)