Retailers, shippers expect happy holidays
A longer shopping season, growing consumer confidence and more online sales are sparking strong predictions.
If you feel there's been an early onset to this year's holiday shopping madness, you're not wrong.
The 2012 Thanksgiving holiday is the earliest we've had since 2007 -- giving consumers more than a week of extra shopping time. And retailers have been using that additional time to their advantage, convincing consumers to get in the holiday mood and start shopping early.
"Even though consumers may think their shopping is done, they find themselves back in stores," said Bill Martin, founder of the retailer technology firm ShopperTrak -- which is predicting a 3.3% increase in holiday spending. "A little bit of spend creep comes in,"Martin notes.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) is forecasting a 4.1% increase in this year's holiday sales, lower than 2011's 5.6% growth in holiday sales. And a recent NRF survey expects up to 147 million people to go shopping over the post-Thanksgiving, Black Friday weekend. Those numbers are also down slightly from last year, as consumers look to stretch their spending dollars in this difficult economy.
About half of those surveyed by the NRF say they are taking a wait-and-see approach about the best deals before they hit the stores or their computers for online bargains.
"It's critical for retail companies to constantly evolve as consumers do," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a statement, "and right now shoppers want great deals, good value, and convenience -- exactly what we're seeing with this season's late and early openings, price-matching, layaway, and mobile offerings."
Along with the ubiquitous television advertisements and print circulars, the NRF says a growing number of Americans are going digital -- by monitoring their email and retailer websites to keep up with the very latest holiday shopping announcements.
The tradition in some households of getting up Thanksgiving morning to check out the latest Black Friday promotions "has transitioned into an ongoing dialogue between companies and their customers starting days in advance," said Pam Goodfellow with the consumer information group BIGinsight.com. 'Through sites like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, company blogs, emails and mobile apps, consumers can connect with their favorite retailers like never before."
This year's Cyber Monday, the online shopping day after the Thanksgiving holiday, is also shaping up to be busy. The Cyber Monday idea was launched in 2005. And from that time to 2010, Cyber Monday sales have reportedly grown 16% annually.
"2010 was an especially important year in the history of Cyber Monday as online spending reached $1.028 billion," the internet analytics website comScore notes, "the first time on record that a single day had eclipsed the $1 billion spending threshold. It also achieved another landmark by finishing as the heaviest online spending day of the year for the first time in history!"
The shipping industry has also been gearing up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. "We believe consumers have gotten much more comfortable shopping on line," says Myron Gray, President of U.S. Operations for UPS (UPS). The company expects to deliver a record 527 million packages in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas -- up nearly 10% from last year's total of 480 million.
UPS is also working to accommodate the growing number of cyber-savvy consumers. Last year the company introduced its My Choice program, which allows customers to receive text or email messages a day before a package is scheduled to arrive -- or even change the date and/or location of a package arrival. And more than two million people have reportedly registered for the service.
And the United States Postal Service (USPS) says it is expects its busiest holiday season ever, due to "consumers growing fondness for shopping online." The Postal Service predicts it will deliver a record 365 million packages this holiday season, a 20% increase over 2011.
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