Columbia residents are only beginning to think about Thanksgiving turkeys, but local retailers are already getting ready for the Christmas shopping rush.
Holiday sales are expected to increase 5.7 percent this year to $217.4 billion, which would represent the largest increase since 1999, according to the National Retail Federation. Despite the high expectations, however, many local retailers say they’re doing nothing different from last year.
KB Toys in the Columbia Mall doesn’t “hang on what the retail federation says,” company spokesman John Reilly said. Rather, it gauges the holiday season’s potential by looking at back-to-school figures and sales for the months leading up to October.
Target stores begin preparing for the holidays in mid-October but base their stocks of holiday merchandise on the previous year’s sales.
“Target is on schedule,” said Jennifer Dasczynski, director of team relations for Target. “It’s the same as last year.”
Nonetheless, many stores unofficially kicked off the Christmas season on Monday when they took down Halloween decorations and brought out Christmas trees. At the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Broadway Marketplace, shelves full of grass seed, garden hoses and other lawn supplies have already given way to stacks of Christmas ornaments and other holiday fare. Other stores have gotten a head start as well.
KB Toys, which does almost half its annual business between the end of September and Christmas Day, starts stocking its store with Christmas merchandise in late August.
“We do so much of our business between now and Christmas Day,” Reilly said. “It’s a significant amount of toys to run throughout the store. You can’t ship all the toys at once; you have to build it up and maintain it through the season.”
For the next month and a half, retailers will fill their shelves and hire seasonal workers in anticipation of the day after Thanksgiving, which many retailers call “Green Friday.” The big shopping day this year will fall on Nov. 28.
At Toys “R” Us, store managers intend to hire about 65 extra employees in addition to their 30 regular associates for “Green Friday” and the holiday season. The store begins preparing in mid-October for the rush of “Green Friday,” when it will open at 5 a.m.
KB Toys will also be open at 5 a.m. and offer special promotions the day after Thanksgiving. Target also plans to join the “Green Friday” rush this year by opening at 6 a.m. for the first time. “We’re encouraged by the results we’ve seen at the different mall retailers,” Dasczynski said.
The National Retail Federation found that the average customer plans to spend $672 on gifts and holiday decorations this year. That figure is up $23 over last year.
“We remain cautiously optimistic,” Reilly said. “The economy has been challenging to say the least, but it is a matter of seeing what the season presents.”