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Sunday, Mar 3, 2024

Valley XmAs

By HILDY MEDINA Staff Reporter San Fernando Valley malls are reporting an unusually early turnout of holiday shoppers this year, and while retailers hope this will translate into robust sales for the season, industry observers aren’t quite as optimistic. “What we’re hearing from consumers is that they’re looking for sales and they’re shopping wiser,” said Greg Tarmin, vice president at American Express’ Retail Marketing Group, which released a survey recently on the upcoming holiday shopping season. According to the American Express Retail Index survey, nearly three in 10 respondents said they had begun their holiday shopping by Oct. 1. That jibes with reports from Valley retailers, many of whom so far are enjoying year-over-year increases. “We saw traffic up (in mid-November). I didn’t expect to see that so early,” said Rachel Mandel, mall director at Sherman Oaks Fashion Square. On Nov. 20, year-to-date sales at Fashion Square were up 6 percent over the same period last year, she added. “We expect this trend to continue for the holiday shopping season,” Mandel said. Other Valley retailers also reported an early rush, and were typically optimistic about the season. “I think there is a certain amount of pent-up demand,” said Lloyd Miller, general manager of the Northridge Fashion Center. “(Sales) have been going positively. We expect that to continue.” While merchants see early holiday shoppers as a positive indicator for the coming season, industry observers say consumers are doing their buying early in order to take advantage of bargains and thus spend less money. According to a Deloitte & Touche LLP survey released last month, national gift spending is expected to average $743, down from $764 last year. Locally, the survey found that Los Angeles consumers plan to spend less than shoppers in most other parts of the country. Nonetheless, the survey found that 90 percent of Southern California retailers expect holiday sales to increase or hold level. And some analysts agree with that assessment, predicting sales in the Valley and throughout L.A. County to rise anywhere from 3 percent to 6 percent over last year. “I think it will be a 5 to 6 percent increase, which is a real good, solid increase,” said Richard Giss, managing partner at Deloitte & Touche. Holiday spending remains vitally important to retailers, in some cases accounting for as much as half of a merchant’s annual sales. Fourth-quarter department-store profits have nevertheless fallen every year since 1992, according to an analysis by BT Alex. Brown & Sons. This could be because a majority of consumers are now making their Christmas purchases at stores offering heavy discounts. Nonetheless, even merchants at high-end stores remain optimistic about the coming season. “We’re very excited about going into our second Christmas season,” said Michael Lindblad, regional vice president for California with Bloomingdale’s. The New York-based chain opened three Southern California stores at this time last year, including one at Sherman Oaks’ Fashion Square. Since opening the Sherman Oaks store, sales have “exceeded expectations,” said Lindblad. “We’re actually looking forward to a strong season here,” said Ken Stephens, marketing director for The Promenade at Woodland Hills. Part of the strategy for Valley malls is to open a varied assortment of temporary retailers for the holidays. The retailers, primarily specialty stores, move in on a month-to-month basis through specialty leasing programs. “It’s brought in some very interesting new retail that we feel will be giving consumers a good selection this year,” said Stephens. At Northridge Fashion Center, Hickory Farms and V Mail, a computer gift store, will be moving in for the month of December. And at Fashion Square Sherman Oaks, the mall will feature toy and game retailer The Game Keeper and a music, clothing and accessories shop called Ultra Lounge. Both opened the day after Thanksgiving. Temporary stores like these are “a very important component for the mall’s rental stream,” said John Konarski III, director of research at the International Council of Shopping Centers. “They also provide a lot of holiday excitement to the mall … consumers love that variety.”

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