Sunday, December 23, 2001

Jerene Ward, with her daughter, Chanese, did some last-minute shopping at Ala Moana Center yesterday. The mall has been crowded this holiday season, but that may not be an indication of increased sales.

Retailers make
final sales push

Analysts see few clues to success
or failure in 2001's holiday market

By Lisa Asato

Striding through Ala Moana Center in comfortable pairs of walking shoes, the Burge family was impressed by 40 to 50 percent markdowns at Macy's, where they spent $160 on three Christmas gifts yesterday.

"We got a lot more to do down the mall, we're just getting started," said Dave Burge, who felt good about doing his part to stimulate the economy.

"We gotta get some money flowing in Hawaii," he said as he left Macy's with his wife, Marilyn, and their son Clark. "It's good to see everybody out here carrying lots of bags. That's good for the economy."

Christmas shoppers braved the long lines at Ala Moana Center yesterday morning. Many shoppers went for the sales.

This weekend marks the final shopping days before Christmas, and active buying by consumers like the Burges are vital for Hawaii retailers to meet last year's annual sales, said Carol Pregill, executive director of Retail Merchants of Hawaii.

"These are the important days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and probably even Monday, the late birds," she said.

Pregill said sales have "softened a little bit last week" after a promising post-Thanksgiving Day rush. "I'm hoping for the best," she said. "If we're even to last year, we're doing well."

Hawaii, then, probably will buck the national trend of a 1 percent to 2 percent increase over last year's annual sales, predicted by the National Retail Federation.

But it's still too early to say how retailers here will fare this Christmas season, which traditionally accounts for 30 percent to 40 percent of their annual business. The holiday season continues through mid-January when consumers spend their gift certificates and take advantage of after-Christmas sales, Pregill said.

Pregill said neighborhood malls such as Kahala Mall, Waikele Premium Outlets and Pearlridge Center, which rely on resident consumers, are doing better than stores in Waikiki "where the worst business is."

Charlian Wright, corporate marketing director for Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, said it is hard to gauge how well the center's holiday sales will be because it relies mainly on visitor traffic, which traditionally picks up on Christmas Day.

But merchants have reported a larger local market this holiday season, Wright said. That increase was due to efforts to attract locals in light of the slumping tourism industry, events such as Brunch on the Beach and Sunset on the Beach, and store markdowns, she said. "I think more so this Christmas (merchants) realize the opportunities are here for good Christmas sales, and in order to compete with everybody else, they had to do what everybody else is doing, which is discounting."

Without being able to provide any numbers, Wright said Christmas sales will probably meet last year's levels, but that sales in the last half of the year will still fall short of the same period last year.

Ala Moana Center, meanwhile, has shown mixed signals this season, Pregill said.

"Ala Moana is very, very busy, and there are a lot of people there, (but) the better measure of what's happening is not the people that are there but the number of shopping bags that are being carried around," Pregill said. "One comment I got is there are a lot of people in the malls, but not a lot of people are shopping."

For Charles Norton, who was carrying $250 worth of gifts bought at Ala Moana yesterday, the holiday crowd seemed lighter than in years past. "I have never been able to drive in and pull into a parking space here. It's always been a 30-minute search," he said.

Norton said would-be shoppers might be pulling back this year because of insecurities about the future.

"When people get concerned about their jobs, that's the scary part," Pregill said, adding that the biggest factor affecting holiday sales here is the drop in tourists and the thousands of resulting layoffs.

Last year, the state reaped about $700 million dollars in general excise taxes generated from $17.3 billion in retail sales, Pregill said. "That's how important it is. It's the largest industry when you look at the revenue. If those sales are down it's fewer dollars going into the tax base. "

At Kahala Mall, marketing director Laurie Hara noted: "Today looks very good. I came in at 9:30 and the lot was full. ... I think a lot of it is last-minute shoppers."

She said holiday sales figures haven't been turned in by retailers yet, but that "foot traffic" is both up and more consistent than last year.

"It is translating into sales," Hara added. "The feedback I got so far has been pretty positive, particularly food merchants."

Although people might not be buying the higher-ticket items, Hara said "we're trying to keep optimistic here. So far, so good."

Both Pregill and Hara said home furnishings and goods are popular sellers this year. They said that probably reflects the uncertainty of the times, in which people want to spend more time with family and friends at home.

Reggie Davis, assistant manager at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Kahala, said traffic had been steady all morning yesterday, with the first lull hitting at 11 a.m. Davis added that the store is averaging holiday sales of about 2 percent over last year. "Our sales trend is as expected," he said. "Our business doesn't pick up until the week and a half before Christmas, and that's exactly what we're seeing this Christmas."


If you are shopping for a last-minute gift, here are the Christmas Eve hours for major retailers and shopping malls (individual store hours may vary):

>> Ala Moana Center: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
>> Borders Books and Music: Both stores, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
>> JC Penney: Both stores, 7 a.m to 6 p.m.
>> Kmart: All stores open 24 hours until 8 p.m. Monday. Stores open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Christmas Day
>> Kahala Mall: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
>> Longs Ala Moana: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
>> Longs Downtown: 1088 Bishop St.: 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
>> Macy's, all stores: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
>> Neiman Marcus: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
>> Pearlridge Center: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
>> Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
>> Sports Authority: Both stores, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
>> Toys R Us: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
>> Waikele Premium Outlets: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (discount stores in the lower mall have varying hours)
>> Wal-Mart: Both stores open 24 hours until 6 p.m. Christmas Eve
>> Ward Warehouse: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
>> Windward Mall: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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