Holiday Shoppers Cautious, on the Lookout for Bargains

Kerri Pinchuk | 12/1/2009, 6:39 p.m.

Black Friday, a Harbinger of Holiday Retail Sales

Holiday tunes blared throughout area shopping malls, merchandise took a hit and checkout lines snaked through department stores long before Thanksgiving dinner with all of the trimmings was a bygone memory.

As the greater Washington region geared up for another holiday season, employment levels remained at historic lows and some of the nation€s largest companies are bankrupt. During the most wonderful time of the year, one question looms at the forefront of both consumers and retailers minds €" how will the current economy affect spending this holiday season?Shoppers responded.

€The economy is definitely affecting my holiday shopping,€ said Betty Wood, a District resident who decided to get a jump start on her Christmas shopping the week of Thanksgiving at Prince George€s Plaza in Hyattsville, Md. Wood, who lives in Northeast, she said that she does most of her shopping at Prince George€s Plaza because it€s convenient.

€You need to scale everything down now, you just need to cover basic people,€ she said regarding her strategy for holiday shopping. She admitted that her Christmas list is shrinking. Some co-workers didn€t make the cut this year, she said.

Wood said that she plans on being cautious with her dollars, but some of the deals offered by retailers have caught her eye. She cited Target, Kmart and Macy€s as stores that she would probably return to before the end of December.

But, Wood isn€t the only person who has decided to be prudent during the holiday buying season. August Mann of Clinton, Md., also shares her philosophy.
Mann, 44, spent the day shopping with her daughter at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City in Arlington, Va. She said that she also plans to radically curtail her spending this holiday season. Her checkbook plays a pivotal role in her spending patterns.

€I€m just not going to do it this year,€ Mann said, due to her financial circumstances.

€But I do need a new comforter.€ She said that Macy€s sales have enticed her to possibly spend more than she intended.

Despite the abyssal economic forecast that consumer€s have received this year, plus advice from economists who have repeatedly urged consumers to spend less and save more, retailers are responding with recession-worthy bargains that started on Fri., Nov. 27 -- Black Friday -- through the end of December.
According to a survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF), more than 130 million shoppers were predicted to show up for the Black Friday weekend bargains this year, compared to the 128 million who planned to do so in 2008. Of the 134 million, 77 million said they would take a wait-and-see-approach regarding sales before they headed out to the stores.

Joshua Boller, store manager of Up Against the Wall, a medium-sized clothing and accessories chain in Prince George€s Plaza, said that the economy has impacted sales at his stored. The chain, Up Against the Wall, also has a store at Fashion Centre in Arlington, Va.

€Sales have decreased due to the recession, but we never really had a problem. We [Prince George€s] are the Number 2 location in the country,€ Boller said. He said that Up Against the Wall shuttered two of its stores in Miami this year due to the economic downturn.

Boller said that since the Prince George€s County store is located in a neighborhood mall, it sees fewer holiday shoppers than its bustling counterpart at Fashion Centre. However, with the deals that his store is offering, he isn€t in the least bit worried.

"Consumers will be especially deal-prone this season, so retailers may have to resort to deep discounting,€ said Jie Zhang, an associate professor who specializes in retail management at the University of Maryland.

€Anticipating a dismal holiday season, many retailers have already cut down inventory and started holiday discounts early this year,€ Zhang said.