Sensible holiday shopping expected this year

Sensible holiday shopping expected this year It appears that holiday shopping in South Dakota this year will mirror last year's spending. While some merchants are looking forward to a banner year and others are concerned about slow sales, overall it looks like this will be an average holiday season for the state.

"Our informal survey of 95 retailers throughout the state found that Christmas this year looks very much like last year, and that's to be expected, since the nation itself is in similar circumstances to last year at this time," says South Dakota Retailers Association (SDRA) Executive Director Jerry Wheeler. "We're still fighting the war on terrorism, and once again we're gearing up for another war. Last year we were preparing for war in Afghanistan, this year we're facing a possible war in Iraq. That does have an impact on consumer attitudes. At the same time, however, we're hearing that consumers want to have a nice Christmas, so we expect to see good but not exceptional spending this season."

In line with last year's trends, retailers report they're expecting customers to stick with the basics this year, including practical gifts such as winter clothing, home decor, inspirational gifts such as angels, and gifts with a patriotic theme.

Survey findings for South Dakota are similar to those reported in a nationwide survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF). The NRF study found that consumers plan to take a sensible approach to holiday shopping this year, with nearly two thirds planning to spend the same amount on holiday shopping as they did last year. Just under 30 percent indicated they planned to spend less than last year, and about 80 percent said they plan to spend more. Many consumers who plan to spend less this year on holiday items indicate they are instead setting aside money for other purposes, such as supplementing savings or paying down debt.

Terry Casey of Casey Drug and Jewelry in Chamberlain is among those retailers with a positive outlook.

"I think we'll have a good season. I feel people really want to return to 'normal' living, and Christmas is part of that," Casey said.

Cliff Hadley of The Clothing Company in Huron attributes his bright outlook to providing the right kind of shopping experience for customers. "We expect a record fourth quarter because our customer base keeps growing. We're among the handful of family-owned specialty clothing stores in South Dakota that has grown by leaps and bounds, yet has kept its flavor as a fun, personal place to shop. That keeps people coming back, and they tell many others as well," he said.

Jerry Miller of Wink's Fine Jewelry in Brookings reported that he's bucking national trends for his line of business. "My industry across the nation has been on a roller coaster ride all year," said Miller. "I have been steadily going up in sales."

Dean Rettedal of Rettedal's Department Store in Scotland says the local farm economy is not strong, which prompts more practical buying closer to home.

"With last summer's extreme heat and drought, our local economic outlook is weak, but Christmas is still a time for gift buying and we try to make that experience as enjoyable as possible for our customers," he said.

Most businesses who were more guarded in their expectations pointed to the uncertainty of the national economy, and a poor agricultural economy in South Dakota. Nearly two thirds of the businesses participating in the SDRA survey said their customers are in a cautious mood right now.

"This will be the most challenging Christmas since 1997," said Kevin Nyberg of Nyberg's Ace Hardware in Sioux Falls. "The economy, the weather, and 401K blues all play a factor. On the positive side, we live in South Dakota, utility prices are good, and small retailers can react to buying trends versus major companies. Competing for the consumer's dollar will be critical for all retailers, and staying visible the next 30 days will be the key to driving sales."

As always, the weather will play a major role in determining where South Dakota customers spend their holiday dollars. Small town merchants tend to hope for poor weather that will keep shoppers close to home.

Many retailers who participated in the survey said they expect customers to be selective about their holiday gift purchases, and to spend time looking for good value for their money before making their final selections.

As one Sioux Falls merchant said, "Last minute shopping this year is going to be one big frenzy."

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