Business

Retailers see last-minute traffic surge

Posted December 24, 2009 12:06 p.m. EST
Updated December 24, 2009 11:09 p.m. EST

— Classic procrastinators got to work on their annual holiday tradition Thursday at stores across the state and the nation.

For some, the wait for last-minute deals and the rush of the Christmas Eve frenzy is as much a part of the holiday season as fruitcake and stockings.

Tom Addison has been bringing his family to The Streets of Southpoint in Durham since it opened.

"It's not busy," he observed. "You don't have to wait in line, so it's easier to shop, but it's not crowded, which is probably not a good sign.

"You can judge it by the parking lot and it's not crowded," he said.

Michelle Boord, too, found the the experience to be relatively stress-free.

"I was expecting a little more traffic,” Boord said.

"We were here at nine o'clock just to beat the rush, and it's not that bad,” said Conrad Rodriguez.

The National Retail Federation, the world's largest retail trade group, expects that total retail sales will slip 1 percent this holiday season, though some experts say that might be a bit too cautious. A year ago, they fell 3.4 percent, by the trade group's calculations.

The International Council of Shopping Centers forecasts that sales at stores open at least a year will be up 1 percent, compared with a 5.8 percent drop a year ago.

About 12 percent of shoppers told federation pollsters they planned to buy gifts on Christmas Eve.

Louis Alvertson, assistant store manager at J.C. Penney, said he saw more traffic as the day progressed.

"Sales have been good," he said. "Business is brisk and so we've customer traffic build."

Sales have been strong since Thanksgiving, and have increased over the last four or five days, Alvertson said.

Sears manager Mitch Joyner was careful not to overestimate the importance of one shopping day.

"Comparatively speaking, it's not the largest day in the month, but every day is an important day for us," he said.

He said the store had been busier this Christmas Eve than last and he credits the sales the store has been offering to luring customers in.

"Overall deals are probably a little bit better this year," he said. 

"With everything going on, we are trying to do a little bit more."

For those trying to balance the budget this Christmas, those discounts make a difference.

"We made a budget, and we are really trying to stick to it,” Boord said.

Rodriguez said he wasn’t having much success sticking to his spending plan – a fact that could pay off for retailers.

“Yeah, we tried to, but I don't think we've done a great job of it," he said.