navy ugg boots uk Lehigh Valley’s retailers hope holidays are happy

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The retail industry is optimistic it will see modest sales gains for the coming season as merchants have already launched aggressive sales, revived once shunned layaway programs, and have plans to increase the number of seasonal workers from last year.

Retailers also are paring inventory levels to avoid the large, profit sapping markdowns of last year.

The holiday shopping season officially starts next month, and comes on the heels of a back to school season that was better than what some experts predicted, hinting that consumers are ready to start spending again.

ShopperTrak, a retail research firm, predicted this week that total holiday sales will rise 1.6 percent compared with a year ago, which would be good news for retailers compared with last year’s steep decline.

The research firm also expects a 4.2 percent decline in foot traffic from last year’s holidays. Last year, holiday sales fell 5.9 percent while foot traffic dropped 15.4 percent, according to ShopperTrak estimates. The research firm tracks customer traffic at more than 45,000 stores.

The holiday sales estimate is a bit rosier than other forecasts offered over the past few weeks, which have been at best no better than unchanged from last year’s debacle. The holiday 2008 season saw the biggest sales decline in at least several decades.

The National Retail Federation, usually bullish about holiday sales, predicts a 1 percent decline in total sales to $437.6 billion for November and December combined.

“The consumer is just tired” of all the bad news, said Bill Martin, co founder of ShopperTrak, based in Chicago. He added that shoppers have pulled back from buying sweaters and other purchases over the past year and are looking to refill their closets,
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though spending will be tempered. Maxx to regional department store chain Boscov’s are optimistic that profits are coming.

It’s only October, but the holiday shopping has begun for customers at Sage women’s clothing store in the Promenade Shops of Saucon Valley.

Manager Joanne Daley said Sage surpassed planned sales for September and the first weeks of October have been “record breaking.”

“I believe it will be a good shopping season. Some customers are already coming in with their lists and some of our current sales have been for Christmas gifts, especially items like the Ugg boots,” Daley said. “For us it will be a fun and profitable Christmas.”

Retailers on Bethlehem’s Main Street are hopeful that the tough economic times will have consumers shopping closer to home this holiday season as they did last year.

“What we will see are the Black Friday and other season events will start even earlier than before,” he said. “They will all be geared at getting the consumers in their door and not their competitor, but the problem is all of them are doing the same thing.”

Marinello said more merchants will be looking to control their inventory flow to make sure the surplus of items are not as heavily marked down as they were last year when the industry saw some merchandise discounted by up to 80 percent.

“The opportunity from the consumers’ standpoint is that it will be once again a great holiday shopping season for deals,” he said. “The retailers are not only hit but the manufacturers have felt it as well and the prices will be even more advantageous on their end and that will be passed down to the consumers.”

It’s no time like the present for retailers to begin holiday advertisements. Toys R’ Us this week unveiled a layaway plan for its costlier items following in the footsteps of retailers like Kmart, which revived the pay over time program that was shelved as store credit cards gained popularity in past years.

Wal Mart, the world’s largest retailer, also launched its plan to slash prices on thousands of items through the holiday shopping season, in addition to expanding its selection of $10 toys.

Retail experts have said the season will have plenty of bargain hunters, reinforced by a Wal Mart official telling a group of analysts earlier this week that the holiday season will be “tough” as consumers will delay purchases for better deals.

Consumers’ wallets “are challenged,” said Wal Mart chief merchandising officer John Fleming, adding the holiday season “is going to be tough, it is going to be late.”

Al Boscov, president of regional department store chain Boscov’s, said recent months have yielded robust sales and the holiday season should be no exception, predicting sales to be 5 percent higher than a year ago. The company has two stores in the Lehigh Valley.

“We are optimistic and I don’t see anything terrible happening [for the holiday season],
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” Boscov said. “I think we will be seeing the industry getting better.”