Consumer spending drives roughly 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, and retailers can generate as much as 40 percent of their annual revenue in the last two months of the year, making holiday shopping a closely watched barometer of economic health.
Lebanon-founded Rose & Remington, Curve & Cloth and Burlap & Birch, which are expecting holiday sales growth this season, work all year to create the best in-store shopping experience possible to draw shoppers back when buying gifts during the holidays, said part owner and developer Nate Alexander.
Cabela’s was one of few retailers that had a sizeable line of customers waiting for the store to open during the 2018 Black Friday shopping holiday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
The local company stock items that can’t be found on the big box stores websites and use customer service as a way to make a shopping experience, Alexander said.
Part of the experience new this year is a donation drive for local charities, giving consumers a way to give back while shopping. Details on the drive will come soon, Alexander said.
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The Alexander family’s stores also work to draw customers by offering a refund period well into January, beyond the typical two week period of other stores, he said.
“Think about the frustrations with returns,” Alexander said. “You never know who you’re buying for during the holidays.”
The store offers $5 e-commerce returns, as well as a flat $5 shipping charge for orders less than $50 and free shipping for orders more than $50.
Shipping is a major point of competition among retail players during the holidays. Last year most major retailers launched free two-day shipping with no membership to draw more customers in a competition with Amazon’s shipping standard.
“As the environment evolves and changes, it’s getting harder,” Shay said about the shifting consumer shopping habits. “Consumer engagement, convenience, delivery, shipping packages. A lot of this is being played in the areas of supply chain efficiencies, fulfillment, convenience for consumers and really thinking about…the blending of the physical and digital in a way that is seamless.”
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Online sales and other non-store sales are expected to increase 11 to 14 percent. During the rest of the year, online sales account for about 10 percent of all retail sales; during the holidays, that will jump to about 20 percent, according to the National Retail Federation.
A mix of online shopping and brick and mortar attraction through buy online and pick up in store options is also growing this year, said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation. It’s a win for consumers to not have to wait two days for shipping, and a win for retailers who want customers to see what more is in the store, Shay said.
Amanda Oppenheimer, 25, of Eaton, said she she prefers to shop in store to feel and see what she’s actually buying, but she said she also shops online, along with an accelerating number of consumers who prefer to order from their couch than head to a mall.
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“I just feel like most stores don’t carry what you’re looking for anymore, so it’s kind of hard,” she said.
Oppenheimer plans to spend more during the holiday than she did last year because she feels more financially secure, she said.
“The economy’s not growing quite as fast as it was last year. But it’s certainly still growing,” Shay said. “The favorable job growth, the low unemployment rate, the continued growth in wages, consumer confidence which does vary from month to month but overall very high…are all very positive.”
Last year Walmart and Target also both launched new checkout technologies that would help shoppers skip long lines during the busiest shopping days. Amazon gave Alexa new updates that enabled holiday shopping by voice. Retailers increasingly turned to virtual and augmented reality to both train employees to make more seamless holiday experiences and help customers visualize furniture, clothing and makeup.
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By the numbers
4.2%: Growth expected in holiday sales
$731B: U.S. retail sales expected during holidays
$167B: Online sales expected during holidays