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Malls forecast a rosy increase in sales for the season

It’s too soon to be gloomy about the forecast for the holiday retail season. While there are concerns about high gas prices and consumer confidence, national surveys are estimating that total spending per consumer in the U.S. will be up an average of 4.5% from 2003.

“According to the National Retail Federation 2004 holiday spending survey, consumers plan to spend $702.03 over the holiday on average, up 4.5% from last year,” said Joel Hill, general manager of Northpark Mall, Ridgeland. “It is not a surprise. Northpark has been trending up for the entire year. We are up 2% year-to-date. We think the holiday season is going to be good. There are woes in the stock market that give some people pause for concern. But actually I think a lot of that has to do with the presidential elections. Once we are past that, I see us exceeding the national average at Northpark.”

Some major toy manufacturers including Hasbro and Mattel have released reports that their toy sales are expected to be flat this year. Many toy retailers are looking to avoid excess inventories, concerned that higher spending for fuel will leave less money for playing Santa. But Hill reports that of the Kaybee Toys list of the hottest 15 holiday toys, Hasbro and Mattel have only two each.

“Both of those companies warning of lackluster sales have only four of the hottest toys going into the holiday season,” Hill said. “The toy industry is very, very competitive this year. That is a little bit of a twist.”

And Hill said even if the toy industry as a whole dips, there could be more money spent in other categories such as clothing and electronics. He predicts electronics will be very competitive this year, and perhaps take more of the market share at the expense of traditional toys.

Northpark Mall recently opened the state’s first Coldwater Creek Store, the first such ladies’ apparel store in Mississippi. Alison Lundsford, Northpark marketing manager, said the company did so well with its catalog and Internet sales in the Jackson area that the company felt is was an optimum time to open a store.

Other new offerings at Northpark include Bath & Body’s flagship store, a line of men’s wear at Express, and the ladies apparel store D & D Designs. Another ladies’ apparel store, Body Central, is under construction. In the entertainmentapparel area, there is a new NASCAR store Pit Road that features two new NASCAR simulators. And Glow Golf, miniature golf with putters and balls that glow in the dark, is also coming in.

Sharee’ Lucius, marketing manager for the Metrocenter Mall, said one of the hottest and most unique toy items for this holiday season is a remote control flying saucer. Other popular toys and electronics are the Barbie Be-Smart Lap Top, Newborn Puppy, remote control motorcycles, Hummers, airplanes and cars, digital camera and printer combos and pre-school learning toys such as ABC Phonics Box and Bi-Lingual Language Learner. For older kids, hot selling games will be Halo 2 for X Box and the latest release for Grand Theft Auto.

New stores at Metrocenter Mall this season include Hibbett Sports, The Sunglass Shop, Perfume & Gifts, FAO Schwartz by McRae’s and The Glass Gallery.

Jeff Snyder, general manager of The Mall at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo, also predicts a good Christmas season this year. He said back-to-school sales were the best seen in several years, and usually that reflect a good Christmas season ahead.

“Consumer confidence is good,” Snyder said. “The economy in our immediate area is strong. We aren’t looking at any local factors that would diminish confidence in consumer spending. Anytime you are a super regional shopping center drawing from 100 miles, high gas prices do make a difference. I think gas prices will impact sales somewhat depending on the category you are in. I don’t think it will affect the biggest shopping trip. But some people may not make as many trips.”

Snyder doesn’t think shoppers are going to forego a visit to their food court, the largest in the state. But they might cut back on impulse purchases.

One significant trend Snyder has noted is stores doing intensive in-service training in customer service.

“I think retailers have always known how important customer service is,” Snyder said. “But this year there is an increasing emphasis on customer service as part of the entire package you put together for shoppers.”

At another of the state’s largest malls, Edgewater Mall in Biloxi, Santa Clause will arrive November 6 in style. Weather permitting, Santa and two elves will parachute in on top of the mall.

Michelle Rogers, marketing director of Edgewater Mall, said while the mall does a lot of special events during the year, at Christmas it is so busy and crowded that they try not to cramp the space too much with events.

“We have a number of temporary tenants who come in just for the holiday gift buying season,” Rogers said. “Most come for the November and December time frame. They try to push as much product in a short period of time as possible. Often they offer great quick gift giving ideas. That is good because people are so pressed for time these days. So it is very helpful for the customers of our mall to have these added vendors at this time.”

In August, Aeropostale, which carries a line of clothing and accessories that appeal to older teens and younger adults, opened to much fanfare. Rogers said their business has been very strong.

Rogers said all the signs point towards a positive increase in sales between 4% to 5% over last year.

“Retailers have pretty high hopes, and forecasts seem to look good at this point,” she said. “A percentage increase like that anytime is good. We’ll take it. The Coast economy seems good. We’re expecting a good holiday season. We are fortunate to be running an increase in sales year-to-date, and hope to be adding to that during the holiday season. The retailers have begun stocking up on merchandise, and some of the stores in our mall, particularly Bath & Body Works and Express, already have their holiday floor sets up.”

One major trend expected to continue this year is an increase in mall gift certificates that can be used at any store or restaurant in the mall.

“They make not only good personal gift ideas, but executive and corporate gift ideas,” Rogers said. “It gives you more variety and options. People can get what they want.”

Early signs point towards clothing and accessories being strong selling items this year. Rogers said jewelry, in particular customer jewelry such as pendants and pins, has been making a comeback.

Tommy White, marketing director of Bonita Lakes Mall, Meridian, is also optimistic that the holiday season will be better than in years past.

“If the first part of the fourth quarter is any indication, it will be just that,” White said. “We’ve been trying to determine what exactly is happening. The only thing we know is that there is evidently consumer confidence because people are really shopping.”

Bonita Lakes Mall opened several new stores recently including a Garfield’s Restaurant, the sporting goods store Finish Line, the surfer and skater attire store Pac Son, and FYE, For Your Entertainment, which offers music, videos and games.

“We have lot of new things to offer our shoppers this holiday season,” White said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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