Hit the road Jack!
Isle retailers gave Halloween a quick boot to make room for Santa's shoppers
HAWAII retailers were even quicker than usual this year to take down the spooky orange and black displays to deck the halls with red and green.
The fear of procrastination by shoppers, who have an extra shopping day this season, as well as the need to compete against 24-7 discount chains like Wal-Mart that are enjoying a particularly strong third quarter, has caused some Hawaii retailers to jump-start the holiday shopping frenzy.
Oahu stores are opening so early this year that while many folks are still scarfing up turkey and all the trimmings and deciding which pie to have for dessert, others will be at shopping centers engaging in a different kind of overconsumption. The prevailing holiday shopping culture is one in which consumers are eager to feast on early-bird bargains and retailers want to make sure they get to their spread first.
Traditionally, merchants and economists watch consumer traffic trends on the Friday after Thanksgiving -- dubbed Black Friday because it is the day retailers traditionally hope the year's finances will rise into the black. But each year the countdown is starting earlier.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ala Moana Center retailers are gearing up for Christmas before Thanksgiving. Santa even is making an early appearance. Above, Treesha Medeiros hands her crying 1-year-old son, Kian, to Santa as her other son, Micah, 3, calmly waits on Santa's other knee. CLICK FOR LARGE
Ala Moana Center began its holiday push complete with Christmas décor, Santa Claus and the Candy Cane Train on Nov. 11 -- two-and-a-half weeks before Black Friday. The center also will open its doors at 6 a.m. Friday, one of the earliest times in town, with many individual Ala Moana retailers posting times that could appeal to sleepwalkers.
"It's the beginning of the holiday rush and we are expecting a lot of early-bird shoppers," said Sharon James, regional vice president of marketing for General Growth Properties.
A growing flock of early-bird shoppers seems to be the national trend. The National Retail Federation has estimated that more than 40 percent of this year's holiday shoppers began before Halloween. Because of that trend, retailers don't necessarily save the best prices for last, said Carol Pregill, president of the Hawaii Retail Merchants Association.
Forget the big bird that's going to grace holiday tables, let's talk about early-bird specials. The promise of bargains has long motivated Hawaii to exchange sleep for a good price on merchandise. People have been lining up for years outside Circuit City, KB Toys and other popular holiday retailers to get their hands on what retailers call "loss leaders," items that are discounted below profit margins.
KB Toys, which opens at midnight at Pearlridge Center, discounts most of the store for Black Friday.
"We actually call it Green Friday because that's the day that the whole store gets wiped out," said Cesar Santiago, the assistant store manger at Pearlridge's KB Toys.
The most serious shoppers will get in line Thanksgiving Day to procure the most-coveted items on their list, Santiago said.
"We put just about everything on sale," he said.
At any one time, 300 or so shoppers will crowd into the store while lines snake through the mall, Santiago said.
"It gets really hectic from midnight to 4 a.m.," Santiago said.
Stores like KB Toys have drawn lines for years, but demand could be threatened by the expansion of discount stores like Costco, Sam's Club, Wal-Mart and Kmart on Oahu that offer longer hours year-round, Pregill said.
"More discounters will increase the amount of competition," she said. "Shoppers are savvy and they want value."
Even Hawaii's well-heeled customers want bargains, said Scott Creel, marketing director for MMI Realty Services Inc., which manages Pearlridge, Kahala Mall, Aloha Tower Market Place, Hawaii Kai Towne Center and Kamehameha Shopping Center.
"The shoppers at Hawaii Kai Towne Center are very savvy," Creel said. "They are looking for value. They'll brag to their friends if they find something of good quality for less."
In addition to price wars and more convenient hours, holiday shoppers also will have significantly more choices this year in terms of stores, said Mike Hamasu, director of research and consulting for Colliers Monroe Friedlander.
More than 81,000 square feet of retail, not including new construction, had opened by mid-year, Hamasu said.
"Tons of new shops have opened in Ala Moana and Pearlridge, and that's going to create more excitement for holiday shoppers," he said.
The competition is also going to boost value, Pregill said.
"We'll see consistent values because the market place is so competitive right now," she said.
Despite the early start, Hawaii's retail holiday season will not end until a few weeks after Christmas, so merchants cannot yet estimate their holiday sales. But most say they have seen an influx in consumer traffic and are expecting a profitable holiday season.
According to a nationwide survey by the National Retail Federation, holiday shoppers are expected to spend more this year than they did in 2005. The average shopper is expected to spend $791.10 this year on holiday merchandise, up from the $738.11 spent last year, according to the National Retail Federation's 2006 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions survey. Furthermore, shoppers will take advantage of sales and discounts during the holiday season to spend an additional $99.22 on themselves.
"With gas prices coming down and consumer sentiment on the rise, shoppers want to celebrate the holidays in style," National Retail Federation president and chief executive officer Tracy Mullin said in a statement.
In Hawaii, most retailers are expecting about a 5 to 6 percent increase in sales over the very prosperous 2005, which saw a $2 billion jump in retail sales over the prior year, Pregill said.
While personal income growth in Hawaii has slowed the past two quarters and the equity run on houses has slowed, the overall economy is still strong. Unemployment is low and a construction boom has led to prosperous times for some. People are still buying homes and cars and whipping out their checkbooks and credit cards.
Despite the trend toward early-bird shopping, local retailers likely will record their strongest sales the weekend before Christmas and the week after the holiday, Pregill said.
"The extra shopping day this season, combined with Christmas falling on a Monday, means that we could see some procrastination from shoppers," she said. "Many will probably wait until the Saturday or Sunday before Christmas."
"Ala Moana Center is optimistic about this year's holiday season as it looks very promising," James said. Merchants are expecting single-digit sales growth from last year, she said.
Business also is booming at Pearlridge Center, with more than 23,000 children expected to ride the Pearlridge Express holiday train, Creel said.
Economists say holiday shopping trends help predict the state's economic growth, and strong sales figures in the islands often represent rising consumer confidence and growth.
Pregill said holiday sales account for as much as 25 percent to 40 percent of the annual total for merchants.
"All of our retailers are very dependent on holiday sales," she said.