As holiday shopping enters the homestretch, sales expected to finish strong

Paige Yowell/The Omaha World-Herald - Holiday shopping comes to a close this weekend, and retailers may finally have a reason to celebrate: Sales for the season are expected to be up heftily over last year.

That’s after years of stagnant sales or nominal year-over-year sales growth.

Experts say a few things are behind that increased spending: One, consumer confidence nationally is at a record high, said Jeff Green, a retail consultant with Jeff Green Partners.

 

And, for the first time in at least a few years, the weather has been fairly typical for the season across the United States.

“It wasn’t too wet, it wasn’t too dry, wasn’t too hot or cold. It’s like the Three Bears: It’s just right,” said Glenn Fodor, a senior vice president and head of information and analytics at payment processor First Data, which tracks holiday spending data.

Holiday sales in November were up about 6 percent over the same month last year, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s more than the 3 to 4 percent growth retailers have seen in the holiday shopping periods of the past two years.

“The strength was so prominent we had to double- and triple-check the numbers,” Fodor said.

Another thing that won’t hurt: With Christmas falling on a Monday, there will be an extra weekend for the season, Green said.

“Every time we’ve had that, it has been a boon to Christmas sales,” Green said.

First Data, which employs about 5,000 people in Omaha, isn’t in the sales projection business, but Fodor said that unless something major happens — like a stock market crash — “you have the table continuing to be set for positive spending trends” through the end of the season.

While sales have been strong for brick-and-mortar and online stores alike, e-commerce spending for November was up 10.5 percent over the same period last year. E-commerce sales were about 29 percent of total sales, up from 25 percent last year, Fodor said.

“E-commerce is growing multiples ahead of regular commerce. That’s here to stay. I don’t think that’s going to slow down anytime soon,” he said.

Borsheims, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, is a testament to the trend. The jewelry store’s online sales are up 47 percent for the year so far, and sales in December are up 51 percent as of Monday, said Adrienne Fay, the store’s director of marketing, comparing the figures with last year’s numbers.

“There’s definitely a different feel this year,” Fay said. “We’re not a huge Black Friday destination, but we really did start to see our sales gain some momentum after that start to the holiday shopping season.”

The store has ramped up its digital marketing to capture new customers and has added some new products, including “Bling Box” value sets that range in price from $165 to $525. Each box includes several different gifts that are themed and match.

“That’s like Borsheims in a little box,” Fay said.

Sales at local bookstore the Bookworm have been on pace with last year, said co-owner Beth Black. But the store is expecting a few busy days this weekend, opening earlier than usual on Sunday, at 9 a.m., and could finish stronger than last year thanks to the extra weekend.

“The last two-and-a-half weeks have been crazy good, really crazy good,” Black said.

Sales at Nebraska Furniture Mart, also owned by Berkshire Hathaway, have been strong, said Mark Hamilton, director of marketing. The company doesn’t release sales figures.

Especially popular this year is the buy-online, pick-up-in-store option, which the Furniture Mart has offered for years, thanks to its pick-up lanes.

“It’s like ordering a sandwich at a fast-food restaurant,” Hamilton said. “It’s really efficient, and people, especially toward the end of the Christmas shopping period, recognize that and are using it.”

Hot items at the Mart this year: Nintendo Switch gaming consoles; home appliances, like air fryers and robotic vacuums; and recreational furniture, like pool tables and air hockey tables.

Angie Tumik of Omaha spent one afternoon this week doing some final shopping at Regency shopping center with her cousin, Kate Medic, visiting from Minnesota.

In line with national reports, Tumik said she thinks she spent a little more than she did last year on gifts. She planned to do more shopping today, and said she did most of her shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.

“I like going to the store and looking at and feeling stuff,” she said.

Her cousin, on the other hand, said she did most of her shopping online.

“I’m a stereotypical millennial, so I did all online except one gift,” Medic said.

She said she also spent a little less than last year — giving fewer gifts and focusing on experiences instead.

“I’m all about the experiences,” she said. “I don’t want presents, I want to go to New York.”