Shopping urge finally kicks in


POSTED: Thursday, December 25, 2008

Hawaii's economy might be humbug this year, but that did not seem to deter last-minute holiday shoppers from making their faithful pilgrimage to Oahu retailers.


;[Preview] Last Minute Shoppers Rush Local Malls

Christmas is near and many last minute shoppers tried to buy gifts for everyone on their list.


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  Lines of shoppers stood outside several Pearlridge Center stores, strategizing on how to get first dibs on deep-discounted merchandise. Inside Ala Moana Center bathrooms, women and their children waited for stalls. At Kahala Mall, retirees gathered to drink coffee, talk story and watch the surrounding bustle. And all across the island, retailers sacrificed sleep for sales.


Still, uncertainty in the crippled economy has forced many shoppers to scale down their purchases this holiday season. As a result, while more expensive items remained untouched, products such as $10 CDs and gift cards were flying off the shelves.

Karlyn Ralston, a 42-year-old Kapolei resident, said she primarily bought “;token gifts”; this holiday season.

“;Someone I would've spent $30 to $40 on I'm buying a $10 book or gift card,”; Ralston said, adding that she is not even sending home gifts to family in Canada or to the mainland.

Many of her friends were just buying for children this year, forgoing gifts for themselves as well as extended family and friends, she said.

Waipahu resident Mark Shibata said his family is shelling out about $200 less than the $1,000 they spent last year due to an uncertain job market driven by mass layoffs as companies downsize their work forces.

“;We're afraid that we may not have jobs, so we're making sure we don't build up credit card debt because if you don't have a job, you can't pay off credit card bills,”; he said.

Nationwide, last-minute shoppers have helped to lift holiday sales, the International Council of Shopping Centers has reported. However, despite a strong weekly increase for the week ended Saturday, sales on a year-over-year basis continue to struggle.

Even with this week-over-week pickup, ICSC Research expects monthly comparable- store sales will be down 1 percent or slightly more for December, said Michael P. Niemira, ICSC chief economist.

Likewise, Oahu's retail sector has suffered, said Scott Creel, regional marketing director for MMI Realty Services Inc., which represents Kahala Mall, Hawaii Kai Towne Center, Aloha Tower Marketplace and Kamehameha Shopping Center.

“;The general mood is off,”; Creel said. “;You can't go anywhere where someone is not talking about gas prices or the bailout or the auto industry.”;

  While parking lots were full at Waikele Premium Outlets, shoppers did not appear to be toting around significant amounts of new merchandise.

Kmart's store volume was ahead of last Christmas Eve, though sales were down, according to store manager Mike Lane.

“;They're watching what they spend and looking for deals, that's for sure,”; Lane said.

The Coach outlet in Waikele was bustling yesterday with holiday shoppers looking for last-minute gifts, many of which were half price.

But despite traffic being up year over year, averaging 200 to 300 customers per hour yesterday, sales still were not on par, according to an employee who asked not to be identified.

“;We have the traffic. We just don't have the dollars,”; she said.

While Ala Moana, the third-largest mall retailer by volume in the U.S., has anticipated that sales in 2008 will be flat or fall slightly, some island bargain retailers have benefited from the change in consumer spending habits.

Discount retailers and department stores with big promotions found their stores were flooded yesterday by customers seeking to scoop up deals, according to Carol Pregill, president of Retail Merchants of Hawaii.

“;Everybody's looking for more for their money than ever before,”; Pregill said.

Price Busters gained more of the market this season as consumers cut back on spending, according Beth Munson, Price Busters' marketing director.

“;We feel very blessed that we've had the sales we've had in spite of the economy,”; Munson said.

Now more than ever, consumers want good values and excellent customer service, said Roseann Schoening, store manager at T&C Surf Designs at Pearlridge Center, where traffic was steady for most of yesterday.

Keahi Baker of Wahiawa was there waiting when Schoening opened the store to take advantage of a special: buy four T-shirts, get two free.

“;I figure I saved about $36,”; Baker said, adding that she had been researching specials for months.

  Overall, Oahu shoppers are more price sensitive this year, said Reimar Muniz, vice president of Razor Concepts at Pearlridge.

“;The shoppers are a lot smarter. More of them come in with a list, and I've noticed that fewer of them are making impulse purchases,”; he said.

While there is no doubt that bargain hunters are out in full force, Pearlridge General Manager Frederick Paine said customers have ramped up their shopping this week, and some are even treating themselves to luxury goods.

“;Sales were down in October and November, but I'm still hopeful about December,”; Paine said.

“;One of our jewelers just reported that a customer had put a very, very expensive Rolex on hold.”;

But most Oahu shoppers were more apt to watch for bargains.

“;I walked into Ferragamo, but I walked right out when I saw the 'sale' prices,”; said Tasi Santos, of Mililani. “;I went to Burberry and I said forget it.”;

Like many other Oahu shoppers, Santos said she is carefully budgeting this holiday.

“;I'm still giving gifts this year, but they are smaller and more from my heart,”; she said.