Increasingly, Maine retailers are setting the foundation for strong holiday sales during the summer.

That’s when Maine’s shops and businesses are full of tourists, and some of the state’s retailers are taking advantage by collecting contact data, such as email addresses, from those customers, said Steve Pogson, an e-commerce specialist and founder of Helm Digital, a Portland marketing agency.

That’s when Maine shops and businesses are full of tourists checking out all those tourists are checking out Maine shops, some retailers are making sure they collect contact data, such as email addresses, from those customers, said Steve Pogson, an e-commerce specialist and founder of Helm Digital, a Portland marketing agency.

Now, those customers will be getting emails from the Maine stores, encouraging the shoppers to check out their websites for products and deals.

“They’re trying to recapture and re-engage the summer tourists,” Pogson said. Those summer tourists can be a lucrative market for Maine retailers, even when they’re hundreds or thousands of miles away and the seasons have changed, he said.

National forecasts call for a solid, although not spectacular, holiday shopping season, which is traditionally launched with Black Friday sales.

Bain & Co., an international marketing firm, forecasts sales to grow 3.8 percent from last year, just a tick below the five-year average increase of 3.9 percent. But a major part of that growth will be e-commerce and mail order sales, which Bain forecasts will grow by 15 percent over last year. In-store sales are expected to grow by a slower 1.6 percent, Bain said, although that’s a bit above the sales increase of 1.3 percent from 2017 to 2018.

L.L. Bean, which has a presence in e-commerce, mail order and in-store sales, said they had a slower than anticipated spring season but this fall has been showing some strength.

“The early blast of cold weather a few weeks ago definitely boosted demand for outerwear – and our 850 Down and PrimaLoft Packaways have been really popular,” said Carolyn Beem, a spokeswoman for the Freeport-based retailer. “This year also presents the unique dynamic of having the fewest days possible between Thanksgiving and Christmas (only 26!) – so it truly is still early to tell.”

Maine’s holiday retail performance has been stronger than the national average. Figures on the state’s taxable sales indicate that holiday sales over the past five years have seen an average annual increase of 5.6 percent.

To keep up that pace, Pogson said, retailers need to look to online sales. Maine’s economy has been solid, with unemployment at just 2.8 percent in October, a record 46th consecutive month the rate has been below 4 percent. But the state’s population is growing slowly and getting older, both factors that can hold down personal spending and impact in-store spending.

Pogson said the key to countering that is staying connected to customers from away. Customers are encouraged to follow a store on social media, such as Facebook or Instagram, he said. Creating loyalty programs also can help, with members offered perks, such as free shipping or discounts, he said.

That’s the approach at Little, a store on Exchange Street in Portland that sells children’s clothing and toys. Customers get 10 percent off their first order if they sign up for an email list, said Ashley Jordan, the store’s manager.

The store keeps in regular contact around the year, she said, so “when it does become holiday season, they look for us,” Jordan said.

Hilary Campbell helps Mollie Barnathan of Portland as she shops at Little in Portland. Maine retailers expect to see a slight uptick in spending this holiday season from last year. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Little set up a private Facebook group for the store’s customers that now has 3,000 members, she said. And it’s not just a place for customers to learn about new products, Jordan said, they also trade stories about their families and parents can look for tips.

“It keeps them engaged even if they don’t live here,” she said.

Forecasters said stores also should be mindful of the kickoff to the holiday season, especially this year, when a late Thanksgiving makes the season six days shorter than last year.

Wompley, a retail technology company, said the Friday after Thanksgiving is the sixth-strongest revenue day of the year for Portland retailers, who also benefit from Small Business Saturday. Revenues for the Saturday after Thanksgiving for Portland stores are 65 percent more than the average day, the firm said, with the number of transactions up 75 percent.

Although the traditional holiday shopping season might be shortened by a late Black Friday, many shoppers already have a good head start. A Nov. 21 National Retail Federation survey found 56 percent of consumers asked during the first week of November already had begun their holiday shopping, about the same as the past few years.

But that percentage is up significantly from a decade ago, when early shoppers represented 48 percent of those surveyed. This year, those early shoppers had completed about a quarter of their holiday shopping by the first week of November, the highest level in the history of the survey.

Nationally, the retail federation defines the holiday season as Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 and expects that sales for that period will total  $727.9 billion to $730.7 billion. Consumers are expected to spend an average $1,047.83 for an increase of 4 percent over last year, according to a survey the federation released in October.


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