Smooth sailing for Christmas Eve morning shoppers

Dec. 24, 2013 @ 04:28 PM

Joshua Collins doesn’t like traffic, and on Monday, he said it was “utter chaos” trying to shop for last-minute holiday gifts. To avoid getting into more traffic, he was at New Hope Commons earlier the next day on Christmas Eve morning, when the in-store shopping traffic was thin.

“Most people are home with family today,” he said, as he stood in an aisle of the center’s Best Buy store.

Most people, or about 29 percent, had expected to have their shopping done by Wednesday, Dec. 18, according to a survey conducted Dec. 2-9 for the National Retail Federation, a retail trade group, by Proper Insights & Analytics. About 10 percent of last-minute shoppers who still had holiday gifts to buy planned to purchase their last gifts on Christmas Eve.

And of the people who still had gifts to buy, nearly half, at 49.9 percent, expected to do it online. That was the highest percentage in the 11-year history of the survey.

According to Chicago-based ShopperTrak, a firm that counts and analyzes retail traffic, in-store traffic was down in the last full week before Christmas this year compared to last. ShopperTrak reported in-store retail sales for general merchandise, clothing, furniture and other products were down 3.1 percent compared to the same week last year, and traffic in brick-and-mortar stores was down by 21.2 percent year-over-year.

On the Saturday before Christmas, known as “Super Saturday,” the firm reported a 0.7 percent decrease in retail sales compared to the same day last year. In-store traffic was down by 18.1 percent on the day.

Still, the firm expects that total holiday sales in November and December at chain stores and malls will be up by 2.4 percent despite a 10 percent decline in traffic. The company expects holiday shopping to continue after Christmas Day, with after-holiday deals driving “robust” retail sales and store traffic, particularly on Thursday and Saturday.

Assessing the morning shopping traffic at the Best Buy at New Hope Commons on Tuesday, Wiley Trimm, the store’s general manager, said it was the “calm before the storm.” He expected the store, which opened at 7 a.m. on Christmas Eve, to “blow up” between 1 and 6 p.m. after people woke up and got out to do last-minute shopping. He said the store’s pick-up business was busy as customers bought items online and then came in the store to pick them up.

For the quarter, the company’s executives had warned that they were looking to boost promotions and to be competitive on pricing to compete with other retailers, and also said that might impact margin of profit.

“We’re still seeing higher volumes of traffic,” Trimm said, adding that he believes traffic had picked up in the store in the last four to five days compared to earlier in December. He said he expected to continue to see higher traffic after Christmas due to returns and exchanges, as well as next year as a result of tax season.

Chapel Hill resident Sandra Walker was at the Best Buy store on Christmas Eve morning to buy presents for her son, granddaughter and great-granddaughter. She said she wanted to do it the “old-fashioned way” in the store since she said she’s not the best person with a computer outside of work, and also said she hoped to avoid returns by having them pick out what they wanted.

 “So far, it’s quiet out here,” she said of the store’s traffic.

Aaron Williams and Jazmin Simmons of Durham were shopping at The Streets at Southpoint on Christmas Eve morning to buy gifts for family. They had tried to go shopping at a different shopping center on Thanksgiving Day, but found it was too busy. They had done some shopping online, too, for some last-minute items.

“It’s pretty slow,” Williams said, assessing the Christmas Eve crowd.

Rumen Nikolov of Durham said it was “pretty crazy” several days last week when he went shopping. He said it was looking a lot better on Christmas Eve.

“I’m able to find what I’m looking for easier,” he said.

Durham resident Nina James pretty much had everything on her list on Christmas Eve, but was out with two family members looking for last-minute sales. She said she had already done some online shopping as well. In general, she said she tries not to go overboard with holiday shopping.

“It’s about something bigger than that for me; it’s about the birth of Christ for me,” she said.

Connie Arrington of Pittsboro was at Southpoint Tuesday to soak up some Christmas spirit.

“Everyone is surprisingly pretty nice and very happy today,” she said.