Ellen Hertz, owner of Max’s jewelry boutique in St. Louis Park, expects the calendar to work in her favor this weekend to help bring in a rush of last-minute holiday sales.
Each Saturday since Thanksgiving has been busier than the one before, she said. But while Christmas Eve is usually a wild card, she and other retailers are hoping that it being on a Sunday will be a last-minute boost. Hertz will open her store at 10 a.m. that day, an hour earlier than normal.
“We’ll see,” she said. “We may be running and running — or drinking coffee staring at each other.”
Retailers are heading into the final homestretch this weekend of what appears to have been a fairly strong holiday shopping season, bolstered by high consumer confidence, low unemployment and wage and housing gains.
“Finally some light for retailers in what has truly been a dark year,” Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, wrote in a recent research note, alluding to the rash of retail bankruptcies and store closures that punctuated the first half of the year.
“Even lines for pictures with Santa Claus have been longer this year,” he said.
In fact, he said, holiday sales this year are shaping up to be the best in years. The steep declines in foot traffic in stores over the last few years as more people shop online seem to have moderated this year even though Amazon continues to be a major threat, he said.
Now retailers will have one more big gust of wind in their sails this weekend. While the last Saturday before Christmas, often referred to as “Super Saturday” in industry-speak, is always one of the busiest days of the year, Friday is also expected to be a big day since many people will be traveling over the weekend. And while Christmas Eve is typically a more muted day by comparison, it’s expected to have more verve this year since it falls on a Sunday, giving procrastinators ample time to pick up gifts at the 11th hour.
“It offers up an opportunity for retailers to be able to take advantage of people who are traveling on Saturday and in many cases are going to get to their destinations and then shop,” said Marshal Cohen, an analyst with the NPD Group. “So look for Saturday and Sunday to be big.”
About 50 percent of shoppers are expected to shop on Friday, followed by 38 percent on Saturday and 26 percent on Christmas Eve, according to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers.
“We expect the entire weekend to be very busy,” said council spokeswoman Stephanie Cegielski, adding that shopping malls saw an uptick in traffic last weekend, boosted by the release of the new Star Wars movie, and have seen strong traffic all week.
Holiday sales have been so strong that the group now thinks they may come in higher than the group’s initial forecast of a 3.8 percent increase, she added.
Kabir Jaspal — who operates Home & Beyond, Baggallini and other stores at Mall of America, Ridgedale and Eden Prairie Center — said his holiday business had a slow start. But since then, he’s seen traffic and sales rise in his stores during the week and stay strong on weekends.
“I think we’ll beat our Black Friday numbers this weekend,” he said. “Even if people are attending parties on Saturday, I think we’ll get them on Sunday.”
The Mall of America, which is expecting big crowds this weekend, will again offer a promotion for a limited number of free rides to and from the mall through Uber this Saturday, as it has done the past few Saturdays. Sarah Grap, a mall spokeswoman, said it’s been a popular program, with the mall maxing out of the promotions each Saturday.
“It’s been a really great holiday season,” she added. “We’ve seen steady traffic. And retailers are saying that it’s been fantastic.”
But while online sales have been the big growth story this holiday, this weekend it will be mostly about in-store sales since the deadlines for many retailers’ free shipping offers expired earlier in the week. Many retailers do not deliver online orders on Sundays. They are instead emphasizing in-store pickup as the best option to fetch online orders this weekend.
Minneapolis-based Target, for example, will accept online orders until 6 p.m. Christmas Eve if customers want to pick them up by the time stores close at 10 or 11 p.m. This week is one of the busiest of the year for Target’s in-store pickup service, accounting for as much as 80 percent of its online order volume.
Amazon and Richfield-based Best Buy are two of the exceptions, with plans in place for Christmas Eve delivery.
Best Buy, which expanded its same-day delivery service powered through third-party logistics partners to 40 markets in recent months, will make deliveries Sunday for $5.99 if orders are placed by noon that day. Customers also can place online orders at Bestbuy.com as late as 4 p.m. to be picked up in stores by the time stores close at 6 p.m. that night.
Meanwhile, Amazon, which some analysts have projected will rake in about half of the growth in online sales this holiday, will have its fleet of contract drivers working extended hours this weekend to make deliveries from its Prime Now hubs, including the one in Minneapolis.
“They will all be on deck,” said Alyssa Tran, an Amazon spokeswoman.
The same-day Prime Now service is free for members of Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime program on orders over $35. Customers can choose from tens of thousands of items — from last-minute gifts to wrapping paper, tape or kitchen items such as flour or sugar — as late as 9:14 p.m. for delivery by midnight on Christmas Eve, Tran said.
Many retail stocks have moved higher in the last month, bolstered by a Census Bureau report last week that showed retail sales in November rose 0.8 percent from October, and 5.8 percent year over year, the largest such increase in years.
The season has been a mixed bag for retailers depending on what they sell, said NPD’s Cohen. Apparel sales continue to be soft.
“And toys are running slower than normal, but I expect that to catch up at the end,” he said.
Some of the hot items of the season have been housewares, cookers such as the Instant Pot, tech products and 55-inch TVs, Cohen said.
“Consumers are looking to cook more at home and to nest at home,” he said. ”The nest is a real central focus for holidays this year.”
And while the discounts may not have been as deep as in other years, they seemed to be more widespread and on the season’s most popular items, encouraging more shoppers to buy things.
“Everything you wanted to buy was on sale,” Cohen said. “Retailers did a good job of that this year.”