Christmas shopping exceeds expectations

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 20, 1999

The arrival of winter weather may help to boost retail sales that are already exceeding expectations for some area retailers.

Monday, December 20, 1999

The arrival of winter weather may help to boost retail sales that are already exceeding expectations for some area retailers. A healthy economy has also encouraged shoppers to hit the malls, shopping centers and downtown merchants.

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Even though the popularity of on-line shopping is increasing, it hasn’t affected the amount of business area stores do during the holiday season, retailers said.

Nationwide, Americans flooded the nation’s stores over the weekend for their holiday gift buying, but online shoppers scaled back, fearing their purchases would not be delivered in time for Christmas.

Analysts project holiday sales at traditional stores will be 5 percent to 6 percent higher than last year’s total at more than $180 billion, while online sales are expected to at least double to $6 billion.

Locally, some retailers would agree with analysts – sales are better than anticipated.

&uot;Sales are better than we expected,&uot; said Lori Petersen, manager of North Park. &uot;We just remodeled one end of the store, so I suppose a lot of people are coming in to see what we’ve done.&uot;

Even newer shops are faring better than they hoped. Ye Olde Country Coop, located downtown, opened its doors in October, and owners are pleased with business.

&uot;When you open something new, you never know,&uot; said Tonya Turvold, co-owner of the shop. &uot;Sales are a little better than we expected.&uot;

And larger Albert Lea retailers are also faring well.

&uot;We had the best day after Thanksgiving ever,&uot; Mike Furguson, manager of ShopKo, said of one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

&uot;We were anticipating a strong year, because of the way the economy’s been,&uot; said Furguson.

With a couple inches of snow on the ground, he expects sales to pick up a bit more as shoppers start to fill their carts with winter gear – hats, mittens, shovels, heavy blankets and the like.

But even those who don’t deal in seasonal merchandise expect sales to pick up even more because of the snow. Both Turvold and Petersen agree the thought of white Christmas is bound to get more shoppers in the spirit.

&uot;I think there will still be people shopping right up until Christmas,&uot; Turvold said.

With Christmas this weekend, online sales are beginning to wane nationwide. But locally, retailers haven’t felt affected by the growing trend of online shopping.

Turvold describes her merchandise as &uot;country to primitive crafts.&uot;

&uot;We have such unique things, shoppers won’t find these things on the Net,&uot; Turvold said.

Petersen’s most popular sellers – entertaining service ware such as platters and bowls, nativity sets and cardinals – are fragile.

&uot;We handle a lot of breakable things. I think people might be nervous about ordering that stuff online and having it shipped,&uot; Petersen said.

Furguson said the impact online shopping has had on ShopKo has been &uot;very little to not at all.&uot;

He thinks the shopping experience will still bring people out of their homes.

&uot;We live in Minnesota and we know about cabin fever,&uot; he said. &uot;(Shopping is) more entertaining than an inconvenience.&uot;

Regardless of where they set up shop, many retailers – both at the mall and on the Web – are having a strong holiday season and are on track to meet, if not beat, their sales forecasts.

Fueling the gains: high consumer confidence, low unemployment and inflation levels and big gains on Wall Street – all of which are making Americans comfortable about their financial well-being and outlook for the future.

Analysts say consumers’ optimism about the economy drove many to start their holiday shopping early – instead of holding out for the deep discounts that come closer to Christmas – and be more indulgent in their gift-buying.