If November national sales figures are any indication, retail sales and consumer confidence may be higher for Mississippians in 2010.
Retail sales climbed 1.3 percent last month, more than double the 0.6 percent median estimate, a Commerce Department report showed in mid-December. Overall, retail sales have risen 1.9 percent nationally in the past 12 months, which is the first year-over-year gain since Aug. 2008.
Now the regional director of program services for Main Street Mississippi Association, Jan Miller worked in retail for 14 years as both a buyer and department store manager in Columbus.
She remains confident about Mississippi retail in 2010.
“I’m so optimistic about retail sales, but cautiously optimistic,” said Miller.
“Downtowns in Mississippi are surviving, some thriving, but stores are being very conservative in stocking inventories.
“The first quarter of 2010 will be really ‘lean and mean’ for retail stores after the holiday season.”
Miller, a Mississippi University for Women graduate with a degree in marketing, says larger retail outlets such as Wal-Mart and K-Mart also are keeping inventories low, with some offering limits in purchases.
“If you want it, you better buy it,” she said. “Most of the ‘big-box’ stores limit customers to four per store, or two per store, on particular items.”
Miller is encouraged by reports from downtown associations around the state with regard to how small retail stores and shops are faring. Mississippi shoppers are in the holiday mood and are spending their money, but most importantly, they’re staying close to home, she says.
“People are buying quality and not so much quantity,” she said. “Most of the merchants we’ve spoken to say shoppers are buying items that are useful, such as kitchen gadgets, gourmet items and jewelry. We’re finding that people are putting their money into investment purchases and shopping more in their hometowns.”
The Commerce Department reports that American households, whose spending makes up 70 percent of the economy, are weathering the worst unemployment slump since World War II.
Excluding automobiles, gasoline and building materials — the retail group the government uses to calculate gross domestic product figures for consumer spending — sales climbed 0.5 percent in the nation.
Advertising to increase sales and spur more retail traffic in Mississippi downtowns is on the rise in some unconventional ways and will continue to be a trend in 2010, says Miller.
“Many of our Mississippi Main Street merchants are pooling resources and advertising their downtowns,” Miller said. “There’s also been a real surge in utilizing Facebook and other social media by local retail.”
Restaurants represent a large segment of retail sales in Mississippi, according to Miller, and are a good measuring stick for determining the health of the economy.
“People love to eat out in our state and restaurants, if they offer quality food and service, are holding their own,” she said. “We’re seeing many local restaurants offer dining specials such as two-for-one to get people in the door.
“But (dining establishments) must offer quality — if they don’t, they’re shutting their doors because while folks are willing to spend money at restaurants, they want quality for their bucks.”
Miller cites the City of Eupora as an example of why she is optimistic about a turnaround for Mississippi retailers in 2010.
“Last fall, there were three store openings in that small community,” she said. “It’s hard to tell those people that the economy is bad.”
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