The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 26, 2012

Shoppers hit stores in search of holiday bargains

By Emily Younker and Andra Bryan Stefanoni

— Sonia Lamia, of Carthage, had one goal in mind as she hit the stores Wednesday.

“I am shopping for Christmas decoration deals,” she said as she left Hobby Lobby in Joplin with several rolls of wrapping paper poking out of her shopping cart.

For Allison Shinkle, the day after Christmas is a time to stock up on discounted items that she can use in her business during the next major holiday.

“We always do this because I have a flower shop, and I’m always looking for versatile things for Valentine’s Day,” she said. “We close the shop (on Dec. 26) and go to market.”

Shinkle, of El Dorado Springs, left Hobby Lobby with bags of ribbon, tissue paper, and red and pink trinkets. She said she already had visited Wal-Mart, and she still planned to shop at Lowe’s, Target and Sam’s Club before returning home.

Gray Wednesday

The day after Thanksgiving may be Black Friday for many retailers, but the day after Christmas is proving to be critical for them, too. Call it Gray Wednesday.

Just 10 minutes after Hobby Lobby opened Wednesday morning, the store was packed, said store manager Donnie Pearce.

“We get run over with people buying after the holidays. It’s clearance time,” he said. “It’s a one-day shot to get (discounted items), and then it’s back to normal.”

Pearce said this Christmas season has been typical, though sales were not as strong as last year’s.

“Last year, we had a phenomenal increase because people were rebuying” after the May 2011 tornado, he said. “This year was more normal.”

At the Target store in Joplin, around 50 people waited for the doors to open Wednesday morning, said Natalie Beachner, a manager. She said many of those shoppers were seeking discounted seasonal items as well as toys that were marked up to 50 percent off.

Beachner said the shopping season went “very well” this year, although it has been difficult for the store to compare it with the 2011 season.

“Everybody was still getting insurance checks and everything from the tornado,” she said. “It was different last year; they (shoppers) were getting new trees, new ornaments. This year, they didn’t purchase as much seasonal stuff.”

Fewer exchanges

While shoppers were looking for lots of marked-down items, there weren’t a lot of post-Christmas exchanges, at least not at John’s Sports Center in Pittsburg, Kan. A few hours after opening, the business had seen only a couple of Christmas purchases returned or exchanged. One of those was by a store employee.

“My socks were the wrong size,” said Carla Pulliam. “But that’s been about it. It’s been fairly quiet so far.”

Manager Adam Gariglietti speculated that the day of the week on which Christmas falls plays a direct role in sales and in post-Christmas traffic.

“We had a busy day of sales on Monday, Christmas Eve, right up to closing at 5 p.m.,” said Gariglietti, whose dad, Steve, owns the store. “A lot of people were coming in to buy last minute. I guess it sneaks up on people when it falls more toward the middle of the week.”

He theorized that with Christmas not falling on a Friday or Saturday, many people would return to work the next day and wouldn’t have time to head to stores for gift returns or exchanges.

“I also think that with the popularity of gift cards now, we have less of that because people can come in and get exactly what they want,” Gariglietti said.

Pittsburg outdoorsman Derek Prestholt went to the store to do just that — although he had Christmas cash, not a gift card.

“It’s good ’cause I can get exactly what I want,” he said as he paid for a new soft-sided gun case.

Tom Dunn, general manager at Jock’s Nitch in Pittsburg, said it was a similar scenario at his store Wednesday.

“We have just had a few size exchanges, a few new purchases, and several purchases using gift cards,” he said.

“Our really busy day was Monday. A lot of last-minute shopping. And as usual, guys dominated that,” he said with a laugh.

Post-holiday tradition

Retail sales for the locally owned athletic-wear store were strong leading up to Christmas, Dunn said, with clothing and gear that carried the Pittsburg State University logo among the top sellers.

Return lines at the Wal-Mart in Pittsburg also were unusually sparse, employees said.

Instead of making returns or exchanges, several customers crowded the holiday stocking stuffer aisle in search of bargains. The day after Christmas, the store marks its merchandise down to half price.

“This is a tradition for us,” said Pat Pickering, of Pittsburg, who was with her daughter, Heather Bohaty, and Bohaty’s children. They loaded a couple of carts with themed boxed sets of children’s toothbrushes and toothpaste, lip balm, bubble bath and the like.

“I’m stocking up for upcoming birthday parties; we can use these as favors for our guests,” Bohaty said. “You can’t beat these deals.”

Pittsburg resident Sarah Jenson avoided lines altogether by making several purchases online this year.

“I had a couple of issues,” she said. “I ordered my dad a set of Star Trek tumbler glasses, and one of them was broken. Wanna guess which one? Spock.”

She also ordered her dad a Green Bay Packers hat, and it had not arrived by Wednesday.

National trends

Nationwide, shoppers spent cautiously this holiday season, according to experts.

Sales of electronics, clothing, jewelry and home goods in the two months before Christmas increased 0.7 percent compared with last year’s figures, according to the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report.

That was below the 3 to 4 percent growth that analysts had expected — and it was the worst year-over-year performance since 2008, during the recession.

This year’s shopping season was marred by bad weather and rising uncertainty about the economy in the face of possible tax hikes and spending cuts early next year. Some analysts said the massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., earlier this month also may have chipped away at shoppers’ enthusiasm.

Holiday sales are a crucial indicator of the economy’s strength. November and December account for up to 40 percent of annual sales for many retailers. If those sales don’t materialize, stores are forced to offer steeper discounts. That’s a boon for shoppers, but it cuts into stores’ profits.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.

Last week of month

RETAILERS STILL HAVE TIME to make up lost ground. The final week of December accounts for about 15 percent of the month’s sales, said Michael McNamara, vice president for research and analysis at MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse.

Source: The Associated Press