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Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto, License: N/A, Created: 2017:11:23 12:32:16

Holiday shoppers are expected to spend between 3.8% and 4.2% more this year than last year, according to numbers released by the National Retail Federation. It represents a total of between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion. The numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compare with an average holiday sales increase of 3.7% over the previous five years, according to figures provided by the NRF.

“It’s fairly optimistic,” said John Holub, executive director of the Pennsylvania Retailers’ Association, “which I think in the current environment is pretty good. It’s encouraging. The economy is doing well and we hope it continues to do well.”

Several online polling companies are expecting a 5% boost in holiday shopping this year. Both Open X and The Harris Poll found 50% of shoppers have already begun shopping for holiday gifts.

Holub said the Chinese tariffs situation affects the bottom line of retailers. The threats of increased tariffs could spike prices on anything and everything that’s imported from China including electronics and toys.

“There is some uncertainty there and that does concern us,” he said.

Holub said while people like to shop online, he feels during the holidays, it’s a ‘rite of passage’ to gather up friends and family and go shopping.

“The death of brick and mortar is a myth,” he said. “It’s something that’s not going away. We are looking at a relatively healthy forecast.”

“A lot of the industry reports that have been released say that there is going to be a healthy increase in sales this holiday season,” said Stacey Keating, spokeswoman for the Stroud Mall in Monroe County. “Consumer confidence is really strong heading into the holiday season, which is always a good indicator, so we are forward to a good holiday.”

Shopping malls have no doubt seen a decrease in foot traffic mainly due to the downtrend in shoppers buying things from traditional brick and mortar stores. Sears, Bon-Ton and J.C. Penney and others have shut their doors in the past few years in many locations; the anchor stores were often mainstays at shopping malls across the country.

“The Stroud Mall is a good example of how we are transitioning to long-term growth,” she said.

The mall has a new tenant: an 80,000-square-foot ShopRite grocery store. It was set to open Nov. 1 and features a “food hall,” a restaurant with craft beer and cocktails, and a wine and beer store.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “This is the first time we are seeing a grocery store in an old retail store. It’s a way to diversify our properties in a way from strictly retail or non-retail use and that would include grocery and entertainment like we did by adding a movie theater a few years ago. We are really trying to transform our properties into some thing that offers a little more diversity of uses.”

She said the most recent numbers available have occupancy rates at 93%, which she said is ‘quite good’ given the national average is 92%.

Keating said retailers that currently operate in the mall are looking for ways to battle the increasing online presence.

“Many retailers are offering ‘buy online’ and ‘pickup in store’ options to get people in the store,” she said. “The research shows that when people buy online and pickup in store, people spend more money in the store. The retailers are also streamlining their return efforts so when people buy online and return it to the store, they are likely to spend more money. It’s a strategy where people have more options and we need to try to make the experience more seamless.”