Holiday shopping gets off to mixed start in Utah

Holiday shopping gets off to mixed start in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY — The holiday shopping season is officially underway, and many consumers and retailers are primed for what some analysts are predicting to be a strong shopping period.

In Utah, results from the first few days of shopping have been mixed, with some retailers reporting robust early sales and others hoping for improvement in the coming weeks.

“Half the retailers are seeing double-digit increases over last year. The other half is seeing flat sales,” said J.P. Swain, marketing manager for Station Park in Farmington. “Overall, November sales were strong.”

Swain noted that about 25 percent of Station Park retailers joined a growing number of merchants by opening at midnight or earlier on Black Friday.

According to a National Retail Federation survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics over the weekend, shopping on Thanksgiving Day grew 27 percent, with nearly 45 million people taking advantage of special “turkey day” savings offers — up from 35 million shoppers in 2012.

As expected, Black Friday was the biggest shopping day with more than 92 million people purchasing clothing, electronics and other items — up from nearly 89 million consumers last year.

Half the retailers are seeing double-digit increases over last year. The other half is seeing flat sales.

–J.P. Swain

On average, shoppers spent $407 from Thursday through Sunday — down from $424 last year. The report attributed the slight decline to low prices and aggressive discounts from retailers, along with the fact that many holiday consumers started shopping earlier than ever this year. Total spending is estimated to reach $57.4 billion for the four-day period.

Shoppers were out in force at many downtown Salt Lake City retail establishments.

“Overall, City Creek Center retailers reported weekend traffic and sales were slightly above those for Black Friday 2012,” said general manager Linda Wardell.

Farther south in the valley, bargain hunters flocked to stores in search of holiday deals.

“We do not yet have definitive sales numbers for this weekend, but we had strong traffic at Fashion Place beginning Friday morning at midnight and continuing throughout the weekend,” said Fashion Place Mall general manager Celeste Dorris.

Colorado-based research firm IHS Global Insight predicted that national holiday retail sales in November and December would climb about 3.2 percent this year, according to director of consumer economics Chris Christopher.

Weekend shopping
The National Retail Federation survey estimated that more than 141 million unique shoppers have already or will have shopped by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, up from 139 million over the same time last year.

For those who shopped multiple times over the weekend, the survey estimated that more than 248 million waited in line, took advantage of big discounts offered at malls and shopped online — up from 247 million shoppers last year.

“It will be the slowest growth since 2009,” Christopher said.

Part of the slowdown will be attributed to the shortened holiday shopping period and diminished consumer confidence in the overall economy in the wake of the government shutdown, he explained.

Christopher noted that online sales have been stronger this year than previously, with Internet sales expected to grow 12.5 percent to 13.5 percent in 2013.

Looking ahead to the remainder of the holiday season, he predicted that sales could climb significantly from 2012.

“If holiday sales growth meets our projection of 3.2 percent, total holiday retail sales would be around $598 billion, with online sales just shy of $81 billion,” Christopher said.

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