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Rodney Stewart, left, and his wife Melanie shop at Kmart for their grandparents Friday. The couple said that after they bought gifts for the family, they would split up and do some last-minute shopping for each other.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Rodney Stewart, left, and his wife Melanie shop at Kmart for their grandparents Friday. The couple said that after they bought gifts for the family, they would split up and do some last-minute shopping for each other.

Shoppers are acting more like Santas than Scrooges

From staff, AP reports

Keeping the nation's cash registers ringing, consumers boosted spending in November by the largest amount in four months, raising hopes shoppers will act more like Santas than Scrooges during the holidays.

Patty Gilliland, assistant manager for KB Toys at Colonial Mall, said the store was packed with shoppers all day Friday, and she expected more of the same today and Sunday.

Friday was "chaotic," she said. "We haven't sat down since we got here. It's been nonstop since we opened at 9 a.m. ... When we open at 8 a.m. (today), I expect it to be nonstop. I've been with the company off and on for 20 years. Usually, when we close on Christmas Eve, there won't be very much left on the shelves," Gilliland said.

With Christmas falling on Monday, today is expected to be the busiest shopping day. Retailers are pulling out all the stops to hit their holiday sales goals by expanding hours in the final days before Christmas and ratcheting up discounts.

KB Toys' top shelves were already bare Friday, whereas toys had previously been stacked to the ceiling, and two truckloads of merchandise that arrived this week were going fast, Gilliland said.

"The stuff is selling almost as quick as we get it out," she said.

Customers were having trouble finding certain toys in stock. Big sellers included Elmo TMX, Baby Alive, Fisher-Price Cameras and Digi-makeovers.

"It's to the point where people are buying anything," Gilliland said. "On a good note, everyone's in a good mood."

Stephanie Landers, manager at FYE in Colonial Mall, said Thursday and Friday were extremely busy for the music retailer, but she anticipates fewer shoppers as the weekend goes on.

"I think Christmas Eve being on a Sunday will bring people out before Christmas Eve. It will get them out ahead of time. That's what I hope, anyway," Landers said.

Landers said the store remained well-stocked despite certain items being popular.

"A lot of people have the same gift ideas this year. We're selling a lot of the same stuff — TV box sets and the same artists," she said.

"The question isn't whether the holiday season is going to be strong but could it have been stronger," said Scott Krugman, a spokesman at National Retail Federation, which is sticking to its projection of 5 percent growth in total holiday sales over a year ago.

Krugman added that consumers shopped early for nonseasonal items like hot toys and electronics, such as flat-panel TVs and digital cameras, but many held off on apparel.

Still, department stores, including Macy's and J.C. Penney Co., appear to be winning the game, thanks to improved fashions and industry consolidation.

Among mall-based apparel stores, Limited Brands Inc.'s Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works have been strong, according to Jennifer Black, president of Jennifer Black & Associates, an equity research company. So have teen stalwarts Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and American Eagle Outfitters Inc.

But panic already seems to be hitting some stores. Struggling Gap Inc. took discounts this week on top of already deep price cuts. AnnTaylor Stores Corp.'s Loft has been touting a "buy any item, get one at 50 percent off" sale.

Still, many are counting on the post-Christmas surge of shoppers, who will be returning to stores armed with gift cards, whose sales are only recorded only when cards are redeemed.

Toys R Us Inc. already started delivering new toys for 2007 this past week. But don't count on Terry Wilson, who was shopping in Nashville. "If I go back, it will be to return stuff, not to shop," he said.

Thus far, consumers seem to be holding up fairly well to the strains stemming from the real-estate bust, where owners have anxiously watched the value of their homes either drop or not go up anywhere near as much as they had during the housing boom.

The Commerce Department reported Friday that consumer spending rose 0.5 percent last month. That was up from a 0.3 percent gain in the previous month and was the strongest showing since July.

"It is clear that Santa Claus came to town early with this report," said Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research. "You can't underestimate the consumer."

Friday's report also showed that Americans' incomes — the fuel for future spending — rose a modest 0.3 percent for the second month in a row. The income and spending figures aren't adjusted for inflation.

Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

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