Shoppers walk through the streets at Liberty Center as they shop on Black Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. This weekend’s shopping could be the heaviest of the season. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Huge weekend crowds expected at Butler County malls, stores

Liberty Center GM says heavy crowds expected

Thousands of consumers looking to buy holiday gifts will crowd local malls and stores this weekend, far surpassing the amount of people who shopped on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

About 66 percent of Americans — an estimated 156 million people — plan on doing some last-minute shopping on Saturday. And retail experts say sales are track to exceed $655 billion nationwide, and $22 billion in Ohio alone.

“This is a big weekend,” said Gordon Gough, president and CEO of the Ohio Council for Retail Merchants. “This is obviously the last weekend before Christmas. Consumers who are wanting to buy things online will need to make their purchases soon in order to get the expedited shipping, or they’re shopping in the brick-and-mortar stores this weekend to make their purchases.”

According to a new report from the National Retail Federation, most consumers haven’t finished their holiday shopping. Only one in 10 consumers had completed their shopping by mid-December. A busy retail season is crucial for a healthy economy, because more than 30 percent of all retail revenue is brought in during November and December.

More than 38 percent of consumers said they planned to finish their shopping sometime before Dec. 18, but about 12 percent of shoppers said that they plan to wait until Dec. 23.

In Ohio, all indicators show that sales are up. The Ohio Council of Retail Merchants and the University of Cincinnati Economics Center found that the state is likely to see a 1.54 percent increase in holiday retail spending this year.

Kevin Cedik, general manager of The Liberty Center in Liberty Twp., said retailers at the shopping center are expecting heavy crowds this weekend. He said the center has seen more traffic every day compared to the same time last year.

For Black Friday sales, the center saw a 12 percent increase in the amount of shoppers who came out — which Cedik called “exceptional” given that last year was the grand opening of The Liberty Center. The $350 million mixed-use shopping destination opened in late October 2015.

In 2015, holiday sales resulted in more than $21 billion in revenue throughout the state.

“While many consumers got a head start with holiday shopping by taking advantage of extraordinary sales over Thanksgiving weekend, more shopping and great deals are yet to come,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO. “We expect retailers will once again be competitive on price and value options in the final stretch, especially on Super Saturday.”

What’s causing some of the local growth to slow during the holiday season? Jennifer Shand, senior research associate for the UC Economics Center, said Ohio retail sales could be influenced by national trends shifting consumer preferences toward mobile and online sales.

“Mobile and online sales continue to grow as well, as consumers enjoy the competition for their dollars shown in more price, product and service options,” she said.

Adobe Digital Insights data show that more than $52 billion has been spent online so far this holiday season. On Cyber Monday, consumers spent about $3.45 billion online, a 12 percent increase from 2015. It was the largest day of online sales in history.

“We are actually seeing more and more sales going to online,” Gough said. “Retail is retail. Either the transaction occurs in the brick-and-mortar establishment or happens on the e-commerce website.”

The increase in online sales has created a demand for more reliable and expedited delivery practices. The majority of products bought online or via mobile in the U.S. — more than 95 percent — are shipped by FedEx, UPS or the United States Postal Service. These three services combined will deliver more than 1 billion packages this season, and they’re warning customers to be aware of delivery deadlines if they want their packages to arrive in time for the holidays.

As online shopping increases, services like UPS and Amazon are expanding their distribution centers and hiring more workers. UPS planned to employ more than 95,000 seasonal workers, including delivery drivers, loaders and package sorters.

“In addition to investing in temporary seasonal processing facilities, UPS is implementing new technology and automation systems to increase capacity, efficiency and flexibility within the operations,” said Kate Gutmann, senior vice president of UPS sales and solutions.

FedEx is adding more than 50,000 additional positions leading up to the peak season, and has added 30 new aircraft since last year. U.S. Postal Service has hired 35,000 seasonal employees.

United Parcel Service, the world’s largest package delivery company, has estimated it will deliver more than 700 million packages during the holiday season. ShipMatrix, a software company that analyzes millions of packages, found deliveries were arriving slightly later last week than normal.

“We’ll get to a point next week, where expedited shipping may not get the items to someone’s house,” Gough said. “Getting into Monday and Tuesday, their only option is going to be getting their gifts in the brick-and-mortar stores.”

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