Holiday sales are expected to rise in Iowa this year, but at the lowest level in the several years as many shoppers continue to spread their purchases over a larger portion of the year.
Ron Prescott, Iowa State University Extension small business and retail specialist, said retailers also have continued to lengthen the holiday season by offering sales and promotions earlier than in previous years.
“My wife and I began our holiday shopping in October,” Prescott said Wednesday. “A survey by the National Retail Federation found that shoppers nationwide are choosing to shop earlier, and 22.1 percent of the survey’s respondents indicated they began their holiday shopping last month.”
The National Retail Federation’s spending forecast estimates the average shopper will spend $749.51 this holiday season, up 1.2 percent from the same period in 2011.
When compared with a 5.3 percent increase in 2010 and 3 percent growth projection in 2011, “this year’s prediction seems to indicate rather meager growth during one of the biggest retail seasons of the year,” Prescott said.
“However, looking at data for the full year, we’re on track for another strong year of four percent annual growth.
“How those dollars are spent throughout the year is changing as holidays like Halloween are garnering a larger share of consumer spending.”
Prescott said Iowa shoppers, like their counterparts nationwide, are using the Internet to comparison shop for the best prices and features. He said that likely will lead to more sales tickets this holiday season, with a lower total amount of money spent by the average shopper — a trend that began several years ago.
What alarms Prescott about the projected 1.2 percent growth in holiday sales is the potential for retail winners and losers.
“When the average sales growth is up around 5 percent, they’re still gaining in their retail sales,” he said. “When you move that average down to 1.2 percent, you know there will be retailers at 4 percent and someone else has to make up the difference.”
Prescott sees this holiday season as crucial for at least two big-box national retailers.
“I have a feeling that the shareholders of Best Buy are looking this quarter as make or break for the company,” Prescott said. “They’re the only remaining national big box electronics retailer, and they’ve been struggling along.
“Another one is J.C. Penney with their everyday low price campaign that they started this year. J.C. Penney is struggling, and their last quarter sales were nowhere near the target.”
The National Retail Federation survey found one out of four shoppers will spend up to 50 percent of their holiday dollars online. Prescott said Best Buy is trying to counter that trend by stressing in-store customer service and the knowledge of their sales personnel.
“Best Buy has really mounted a strong campaign to bring their techie guys into contact with customers,” he said.
“When I’m standing in front of a big screen flat screen TV, I don’t know much about 760 or 1080p resolution. Having someone standing next to me who is breathing this stuff every day is really a good idea.
“Unfortunately Best Buy’s prices are not all that exciting when you get beyond the doorbusters. Some of their prices are still on the top side, but I hope that they do well this year.”
Prescott said Iowa shoppers may top 1.2 percent growth in holiday spending. He cited the state’s unemployment rate, which is several percentage points below the national jobless rate, and an agricultural sector that has enjoyed strong commodity prices in recent years.
While he has avoided the Black Friday early shopping craze in past years, Prescott was planning to hit the stores in Ames at midnight Friday.
“I took this job in February with ISU Extension and I felt that as a retail specialist, it was time that I experience firsthand all the craziness of Black Friday shopping,” Prescott said. “I plan to have my flask of hot coffee to keep me awake and alert for the best bargains.”