Back to the stores they go

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 26, 2010 - 9:56 PM

Day-after-Christmas sales have lost some luster, but Twin Cities retailers kept the deals coming at shops and malls as the holiday shopping season draws to a close.

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Gordon and Suzanne Muir of Maple Grove shopped for bargains Sunday in Callisters Christmas with their children Isla (leaning forward) and Cameron at the Mall of America. Twin Cities retailers got a weather break as a snowstorm battered the East Coast.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Sue Bast arrived at Bloomington's Mall of America on Sunday for her routine weekend walk, but found herself a couple of hours later with a bag full of Christmas cards and wrapping paper.

"I just happened to stick my credit card in my pocket -- what a shame," she deadpanned, holding a stockpile of half-priced ornaments at the Callisters Christmas store.

"I am a little more careful with spending," said Bast, of Eagan, regarding this year's holiday budget. "That's why I'm looking for deals."

With consumers feeling a bit more jolly about joining the masses at the malls, the day-after Christmas shopping could be the cherry on top of a sweeter-than-expected holiday for many of the nation's merchants.

The National Retail Federation beefed up its earlier estimates and now is predicting that retail sales will increase 3.3 percent this year, the best showing since 2007. The final tally won't be known until Jan. 6, when retailers report December sales figures.

Still, that's plenty of time for the snowstorms on the East Coast to diminish those strengthening returns. In fact, retailers could see a drop by as much as 0.5 percent in sales because of the disruptive weather, said Marshal Cohen of market research firm NPD Group.

"There's no sense of urgency or deadline [for shoppers]," Cohen said. "You can use your gift card or make that return any time. Now you're more concerned with getting home than going shopping."

On Sunday, Minnesotans were dancing between snowy blasts, however, and heading out in force for one of the top six busiest shopping days of the holiday season. One in five consumers was expected to go shopping, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Arthur Skov pooled holiday money with his own savings, and filled up a $575 basket of goodies at Best Buy, including a PlayStation3 console, plus extra controllers, cables and some games.

"I've been waiting," said Skov, 21, of Hastings, who was out shopping with his brother, Joren, 19, and best friend Luke Varien, 21. The trio planned to go check out some shoes, and then head home for an afternoon of gaming.

"I think we got some good deals," Skov said.

The day-after-Christmas promotional frenzy has toned down from years past, in part because of the growing popularity of online sales and gift cards, which generate holiday sales into January.

But the steep discounts retailers were using to prod consumers to buy during the recession also have shaped shopping habits. Consumers won't bite unless there's a deal, meaning promotions once reserved for post-holiday shoppers made their debut before Santa came down the chimney.

That's one reason why Holiday 2010 will go down as a "good year, not a great one," said Cohen who is advising "a strict program of 'discount detox'" to wean retailers and consumers off of promotions next year.

Retailers came into the Thanksgiving weekend unsure whether recession-scarred consumers would be ready to shop. A strong start on Black Friday combined with record online sales buoyed hopes as Christmas approached.

"Retailers came to the party with better deals, and the consumer responded," said Britt Beemer of America's Research Group.

Brad Wilson, founder and editor-in-chief of BradsDeals .com, predicts that his site will get more visits this week than it did the week preceding Christmas. The Chicago-based website monitors 1,500 retailers every day and publishes 100 of the best deals.

"Last week, we were shopping for others," Wilson said. "This week, we didn't get everything on our gift list."

Apparel stores offered the strongest day-after-Christmas sales, Wilson said. Macy's opened at 7 a.m. with half-priced luggage and 75 percent off certain men's sweaters. Nike and the Gap offered one-day-only discounts of 25 percent off clearance prices.

Perishable gourmet foods, including Godiva chocolate, as well as cameras, TVs and computers also were heavily promoted, Wilson said. Best Buy promoted a Gateway laptop for $399.99.

It's possible over the next few days that consumers could tally up their holiday shopping bills, decide they have spent enough and retreat into their savings cocoons. Either way, consumer watcher Beemer predicts bargains ahead.

"You're going to see a lot of retailers get super promotional on January clearance," Beemer said. "They've got to get everything sold and out the door by early February so they can get spring merchandise out by President's weekend."

And then, of course, a new round of promotions will begin.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335

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