Friends Lisa Morrison, left, Audrea Perez, center, and Grace Taitano were shopping at Ala Moana Center Thursday while visiting from Guam. Lisa is about half done with Christmas shopping, while Audrea said she is 75 percent done. As for Grace? "No comment," she said. "This is for me."

Short shopping
season starts
early this year

Retailers say the early discounts
do not show worries about slow
customer holiday spending

By Russ Lynch

Hawaii stores are into their holiday season early this year, with discounts abounding and shopping picking up. But the jump start is a result of planning rather than worries about a struggling economy, retailers say.

"With Thanksgiving falling as late as it does, it shortens the number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Gill Berger, general manager of the Sears store at Ala Moana Center. Sears did kick off its holiday season early but as a planned market strategy, Berger said.

The traditional holiday shopping season starts the day after Thanksgiving. Last year that was Nov. 23. From Thanksgiving Day through Christmas Eve there were 32 shopping days.

This year, Thanksgiving is Nov. 28. It is followed by only 25 holiday shopping days, Berger said. Retailers wanting to get good November figures have had to start their seasonal promotions early, he said.

Shoppers might well think stores offering discounts and special merchandise now are acting out of fear that the season won't be good, but the strategy was planned weeks or months ahead, Berger said.

Sears and other retailers are seeing business pick up early and there is a lot of discounting in the Hawaii market. Macy's, for example, has been running advertisements offering 40 percent or 50 percent discounts on some merchandise.

Macy's officials were not available for comment and the company has been regularly discounting since taking over Liberty House stores a year ago, so it is hard to say how much of the latest push is purely seasonal.

"I think people are looking for bargains, looking for values as much as possible," said retailing consultant Stephany Sofos, of SL Sofos Co. "On the mainland everybody is concerned about going to war. Consumer spending is up but they are worried.

"In Hawaii we've had kind of a low year retailwise because of the after-effects of 9/11," she said. "Many (isle retailers) are still looking to get 40 percent of their business during the season. They are trying to get their position and if they end up having to do a lot of discounting they will."

That hasn't happened yet at the KB Toys stores in the islands, said Wayne Simmons, district sales manager for Hawaii and Guam.

"We've found a lot of people are shopping earlier. I've seen a lot of the department stores starting discounts but we haven't," Simmons said. "We're on track with what we planned."

Walter Watanabe, store manager at Shirokiya in Ala Moana Center, said that apart from the shorter shopping season, this year appears normal so far.

"There's basically two groups. There's the people who shop early and then there's the last-minute shoppers," he said.

But Watanabe does expect the holiday season shopping to be "much more intense" this year because of the shorter season. "As long as nothing happens in the world (such as a war) it should be an OK Christmas," Watanabe said.

At Barnes & Noble Booksellers in the Kahala Mall, store manager James Tamayose said he hasn't seen any pickup in business but hasn't expected any.

"We don't see much until just before Christmas," he said, because people don't buy books until the last minute.

The Christmas shopping season has been moving up a bit earlier for the past couple of years, said Dwight Yoshimura, Hawaii general manager of General Growth Properties Inc., owner of the Ala Moana Center and the Ward centers.

"It's not anything new," Yoshimura said.

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