A line of carts and shoppers encircle Target during a previous Black Friday. (File photo)
ALBANY — Black Friday is here, and merchants are optimistic that it will get the Christmas shopping period off to a good start.
The National Retail Federation expects store traffic nationally to be down slightly from 2012, but officials with the Georgia Retail Association think the state’s merchants could see a 3 percent increase in November-December sales compared to last year.
An online survey earlier this month by AAA The Auto Group found that 90 percent of the respondents surveyed in its Southern Region, which includes Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, planned to by gifts this holiday season, though indications were that spending would be down slightly. The AAA Consumer Pulse Holiday Shopping Survey, released this week, also found that 47 percent of respondents planned to hit the stores today.
According to the survey that was conducted Nov. 1-4, 27 percent of shoppers in the tri-state region began Christmas shopping before November, while 29 percent planned to start the last two weeks of the month. The remaining 26 percent didn’t plan to shop until December. Sixty percent planned to look for Internet deals on what has come to be known as Cyber Monday.
“Retailers are doing everything they can to get shoppers’ attention early,” said Belinda Dabrowski, managing director, AAA Partnership Development, The Auto Club Group. “That can only help consumers, who according to our research, may slightly cut back on spending. With a little bit of research, people could find many opportunities to get more for their money.”
About three in 10 respondents (29 percent) said they planned to spend less money on gifts this year, a 6 point increase from last year. Nearly one in five (19 percent) planned to spend up to $250 on gifts, and more than three in five (62 percent) said they would spend $251-$1,000.
The top five categories for holiday gifts in the tri-state area were Apparel and accessories, 71 percent; gift cards, 67 percent; toys, 45 percent; books, 42 percent, and jewelry, 36 percent, AAA officials said.
In Georgia, officials with the state’s retail group said consumers appeared to be moving past the economic uncertainty caused by the partial federal government shutdown in October.
“Consumers appear to be shaking off some of the bad news from Washington D.C. The federal government shutdown this fall had an impact on consumer confidence, but we remain cautiously optimistic that most retailers will see an uptick in holiday sales,” Georgia Retail Association President Rick McAllister said. “Retailers overall could see about a 3 percent average gain in sales, which would represent a healthy increase.”
And this is a crucial time for merchants, who realize anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of their annual sales in the final two months of the year.
One thing that McAllister said might lighten the mood for shopping is the cold weather that came this week. Albany has seen laws at or near freezing for the past couple of nights with highs most of the week that have been below normal. Some parts of north Georgia saw snow flurries as well.
“Shoppers are still bargain driven, but they are more optimistic about the economy next year. Retailers are staffed up and ready for big crowds scooping up the doorbusters and deals they are offering this week,” McAllister said.
Like AAA officials, the GRA expects stronger Cyber Monday sales, saying some retailers are likely to see gains as high as 15 percent on Monday.
Nationally, the National Retail Federation expects just under a 5 percent decline in the number of people shopping this weekend, with about 140 million Americans saying they planned to hit the stores. In 2012, the number was about 147 million.
The biggest day will be today, the NRF predicted, with 97 million people — 69.1 percent of those who said they planned to shop during the weekend — looking for bargains today. The expected numbers drop as the weekend progresses, with 61 million (43.8 percent) planning to shop Saturday and 34 million (24.2 percent) on Sunday.
“Savvy shoppers know that the biggest shopping weekend of the year means even bigger savings, and those with specific gifts to buy will definitely be out and about or online over the holiday weekend,” Prosper’s Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow said. “Though most will adhere to a very strict budget and will make thoughtful decisions about the gifts they purchase, it’s evident that Americans are in the holiday spirit, despite their cautious approach to spending.”
And as has been the case, the majority will look to circulars from newspapers on information for bargains. Just under half of all shoppers — 49.1 percent — will scour newspapers for information on sales, the federation found. Other top sources for shoppers were emails from retailers, 33.5 percent; retailer websites, 27 percent, and coupon websites, 21.9 percent. There was no mention of television or radio advertising in the release.