Retailers optimistic about holiday sales

Nov. 13—Several area store owners believe an early start to the holiday shopping season bodes well for their financial outlook.

Kim Evans, owner of theKimmy, a women's clothing boutique in Olyphant, has noticed customers buying presents sooner than ever.

"The spike is actually starting now," Evans said. "I think maybe they're trying to stretch their budget over a longer duration."

National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said the holiday shopping season kicked off earlier this year — a growing trend in recent years — as shoppers worry about inflation and the availability of products.

Due to inflationary concerns, 46% of holiday shoppers planned to browse or buy before November, according to NRF's annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics.

Catherine Duffy, co-owner of 3 Sisters, a jewelry store in Kingston, has also witnessed an early influx of customers.

"People are thinking they better secure their holiday gifts when they see them to make sure they get the items they're looking for," she said. "It's certainly good to see people are thinking about the holidays ahead of time."

Target launched weeklong Black Friday deals starting in early October through Thanksgiving week — three weeks earlier than last year — and Walmart brought back its Black Friday Deals for Days promotion, which runs throughout November.

Positive sales outlook nationally, locally

After holiday sales grew by 13.5% last year, totaling $889.3 billion and shattering previous records, the National Retail Federation forecasted holiday retail sales will grow between 6% and 8% during November and December.

Evans said her gross revenue typically doubles in November and triples in December. She doesn't expect economic concerns to hamper sales.

"I think people are concerned about the increases in basic products like groceries, but they've budgeted better and are spreading their spending earlier, so it doesn't necessarily pinch as hard closer to Christmas," she said.

While Duffy recognizes the economic struggles many people are facing, she feels the store has something for everyone's budget — from $10 to a few hundred dollars.

"We have such a unique blend of jewelry and accessories, and you can buy a gift without breaking the bank," she said.

Beth Ann Zero, owner of The Wonderstone Gallery in Dunmore, estimates revenue was up about 50% last holiday season. While she doesn't expect a repeat to that extent, she's hopeful sales will remain strong.

Zero anticipates more customers will flow into the store closer to December as people get into the holiday spirit.

"It was warm into November last year, too, so I think some people got a later start doing their Christmas shopping," she said. "I think it might be the same this year."

Jim Boscov, chairman and CEO of Boscov's, with local stores in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Hazle Twp., also expressed optimism for holiday sales.

"I'm expecting a very good holiday season," he said. "We've worked very hard to make sure we have plenty of inventory and our prices are going to be very sharp."

Shift back to stores

While online and other "non-store" sales are projected to increase between 10% and 12%, the National Retail Federation expects more consumers to return to in-store shopping this year.

The migration back to local shops is welcomed by Evans — who conducts many more sales in store than online — and other area retailers.

"My brick-and-mortar store is exponentially bigger than my online store," she said.

Evans believes consumers prefer trusted products over the uncertainty of foreign imports sold by some online retailers.

"A lot of ads that come up on Facebook and Instagram are Chinese knockoff companies," she said. "It seems a lot of people have been burned by that experience with subpar products that (don't) necessarily match the stock images being advertised."

Zero feels shoppers are drawn to many handmade, one-of-a-kind items sold at her shop on North Blakely Street.

"A lot of people come in for different crystals and gemstones, and jewelry and candles from local vendors," she said. "There aren't many places where you can support local artists and artisans. I think a lot of people keep that in mind around the holidays and are enjoying getting back into the shops again."

The personal touch and expert advice offered inside stores makes the experience better than shopping online, Duffy said.

"You just can't buy jewelry online," she said. "There are a lot of things you need to see, feel and try on. I think COVID made people realize just how important shopping small is to local retailers and restaurants."

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