Retailers wait for big rush

Forgive retailers if they’re a little nervous right now.

The clock is ticking down to Christmas Day, which means this is the last weekend for stores to bring in shoppers. It’s likely to be a busy one — the last Saturday before Christmas has been known to rival Black Friday.

With concerns about the deadlocked politicians in Washington and the effects their stalemate can have on everything from job security to the tax bills, will those shoppers be browsers or buyers?

That’s the multibillion-dollar question.

By most accounts we’ve seen, the season got off to a bang on Black Friday, then fell off. ShopperTrak, which keeps up with national store traffic and sales numbers, has adjusted its prediction that sales would exceed the 2011 level by 3.3 percent down to 2.5 percent. A survey by the Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs showed that a little over 5 percent fewer shoppers had completed their buying by last Sunday compared to 2011.

And with many retailers realizing as much as 40 percent of their annual sales in November and December, this is literally a gold rush at the finish.

So, what are folks waiting for?

Some aren’t. They’re just doing a little less this year, keeping some cash reserves or at least not dipping more deeply into the credit in case the White House and Congress can’t get their act together, which will have a punitive affect on paychecks. It’s hard to get into the spirit of the holiday with the ghosts of financial distress floating out there, waiting for the ball to drop on New Year’s Eve.

But others, we think, have just gotten a bit more savvy. They’ve gotten used to the deep discounts that businesses threw out earlier and earlier in the past few years as America struggled through the recession. Much like the White House and House Republicans, they’re playing chicken with retailers who are trying their best to improve their bottom lines here at the end of the year.

Somebody will flinch this weekend, and experts seem to think it will be the retailers, who they expect to finally break out the deep discounts and two-for-one deals.

While we hope everyone will spend responsibly, we also hope that those of you who are still in the purchasing mode will visit with our local merchants this weekend and see what they have to offer. Keeping those shopping dollars close to home helps the community, likely including people you know. And that benefits all of us.