holiday shopping

holiday shopping

(For use by New York Times News Service Clients)

c.2013 Houston Chronicle

McClintock, who owns the Memorial-area shop Ann's Fine Gifts, reports people have been walking into his store lately, saying, "Oh, we're just getting ideas, no hurry."

But not long from now, he said, they will start to notice that time is running out. He expects bedlam in his store during the Christmas season's waning shopping days.

McClintock is not the only retailer nervously eyeing the calendar. Some worry people will spend less because they have fewer days to shop, although analysts dismiss such concerns as overblown.

Economists with the International Council of Shopping Centers trade group have found the correlation between the number of days between Black Friday and Christmas and overall holiday sales is weak at best, spokesman Jesse Tron said.

''A lot of retailers out there are worried, but it's really not that big of an issue," Tron said.

But, undeniably, the compressed time frame has led retailers to offer more discounts earlier in the season. A growing number of stores are opening Thanksgiving, a day ahead of Black Friday.

''Clearly, we've been a little more promotional before Thanksgiving," said Michael Glazer, CEO of Houston-based Stage Stores, a chain whose portfolio includes 54 Palais Royal stores in the area.

He cited Palais Royal's buy-one-get-one-free sale Tuesday and Wednesday as an example, and said other chains have been exceptionally promotional before Thanksgiving this year. He said they will do so after Christmas, as well.

''It's a really good year for consumers," Glazer said.

Analysts not worried

The number of days between Black Friday and Christmas ranges between 26 and 32, depending on when Thanksgiving falls. That number is at the minimum for the first time in 11 years.

Steve Coulombe, senior managing director of FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm, said the high level of discounting could cut into profits.

Otherwise, he suggested, there is little evidence for the claim that fewer shopping days mean lower sales. If you look at the times holiday sales have risen 6 percent or higher since 1998, it has never been during 31- or 32-day periods, Coulombe said.

And three out of five seasons that had 26 or 27 days between Black Friday and Christmas saw healthy sales growth for the season, he said.

The case also can be made that the number of holiday shopping days is actually growing because sales promotions kick off earlier each year, Coulombe said. Unlike a decade ago, retailers are offering deep discounts as early as the start of November, he said.

FTI Consulting is forecasting holiday sales to increase by 4.9 percent this year over last.

''We think that's a strong year," Coulombe said.

'Definitely a concern'

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group, acknowledged that fewer shopping days between the two holidays may possibly result in fewer impulse purchases and self-gifting.

But, he added, "We don't make more or less money when the season is shorter, and we don't have more or less people to buy for."

Count Glazer among the nervous.

''It's definitely a concern," the Stage Stores chief said.

McClintock expects to have a good season at Ann's Fine Gifts, but he thinks it would have been even better with more days between Black Friday and Christmas.

He said he is doing his best to prepare for all the last-minute shoppers, particularly men.

''Men are procrastinators," he said. "On the 13th or 14th of December, I'll have 600 men in here." XXX - End of Story