By Rebecca Bryer
Santa may be using the Internet to stock his sleigh more than ever this holiday season. In spite of this national trend, local retailers generally remain confident about their own sales prospects.
A Deloitte 2013 Holiday Shopping survey projects that the Internet will be consumers’ No. 1 shopping destination this holiday season.
However, the same survey indicates that 66 percent of shoppers also plan to shop in their local towns. Some retailers believe they will benefit from these local preferences.
“The fourth quarter, especially the holiday season, is our biggest time of the year by far,” said Allegra Steek, manager of Walkabout Outfitters on Washington Street in Lexington.
The outdoor retailer attracts customers with in-store promotions unavailable online, including sales on North Face merchandise the day after Thanksgiving, which is known as “Black Friday” because it is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year – and retailers’ finances move from the “red” to the “black.”
Mike Stein, manager at Peebles on Route 11, said he isn’t concerned about losing significant business to online shoppers. The department store encourages in-store shopping with coupons and free refreshments. To get a jump on the season, the store will open from 6 p.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving Day, offering free coffee and cocoa to shoppers.
“So far it looks like [holiday seasonal sales]… are going to be pretty good,” said Stein.
Other retailers are confident that they offer services that online competitors cannot match.
“We truly believe we are better serving the community by wrapping gifts and shipping them out the door. We’ve really built a strong reputation with people here in the community,” said Ed Bordett, one of the artists at the cooperative, Artists in Cahoots on Washington Street.
The comfort and convenience of shopping online may not be the biggest threat to the local retail industry. Some Lexington retailers believe that negative national trends provide greater reason to be cautious about prospective sales performance.
“I think last year was a little lower on sales in this particular store and everywhere in town, but this year maybe it will be better. It’s hard to say,” said Jan Perkins, manager of Pappagallo, a women’s clothing and accessories store on Main Street.
October’s federal budget stalemate and the consequent government shutdown could have repercussions across the board for the retail industry. According to the Conference Board, consumer confidence “decreased sharply” in October to 71.2, down from 80.2 in September.
Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, said in a report that “consumer confidence has been undermined by fiscal policy uncertainty.” Guatieri believes that these policies will result in a “modest” 2 percent increase in consumer spending this holiday season.
Although fiscal policy issues could be a cause for consumers’ lack of confidence, some believe that 2013 holiday season will, at the very least, be an improvement from 2012.
The International Council of Shopping Centers projects a “slightly stronger” increase in sales this holiday season. The ICSC report projects a 3.4 percent increase in consumer spending this year. For smaller independent retailers, the outlook is less certain.
“We don’t know what quite to expect,” said Ginny Parker, owner of Baby’s First on Main Street.
Meg Hall, owner of Cheese to You on Main Street, is as cautiously optimistic as Parker and the ICSC. “This year shows a 25 percent growth over last year so far,” she said. “So, I expect that to be consistent through the holidays. But we shall see.”
Abbie Pedroni, Andy Soergel, Harper Coulson, Becca Boehringer, Colleen Paxton, and Sarah-Jean Vallon also contributed to this story.