Friday, November 26, 2010

TOP STORY >> Black Friday shopping frenzy

Leader staff writer

If Black Friday is any indication, local retailers believe the economy is turning the corner.

Every business interviewed said sales this year appear to be besting last year’s totals.

“It looks like the economy is starting to come around,” said Andy Isom with Hastings in Jacksonville.

In Sherwood, Kohl’s Eric Howard echoed those sentiments, “We are looking at a good Black Friday.” And in Cabot, Josh Fraser with Home Depot said it was progressively stronger as the day went on.

The retail industry predicted holiday sales would rise 2.3 percent, to $447.1 billion, from last year’s so-so performance.

According to at least one barometer, fourth-quarter spending is looking much brighter than a year ago. Apparel sales made through Nov. 13 were up almost 10 percent from a year earlier, and luxury purchases, excluding jewelry, rose 6.7 percent, versus a 9.2 percent decline a year ago, according to MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse.

Last year, consumers spent $18.6 million and their spending grew to $40.3 million by the end of the weekend, according to SpendingPulse.

Isom, manager at Hastings, said things started off a little slowly for the store this morning, but then picked up and ran steadily the rest of the day.

“We opened at 8 a.m., later than many of the other retailers in the area, and had to wait for customers to circulate over here.”

Isom said consumer electronics were the hottest item Friday and the store was definitely going to beat last year’s totals.

Howard, one of the assistant managers for Kohl’s in Sherwood, said business was strong all day. “We had everyone and their uncle coming in for our door busters. We had over 400 special sales,” Howard said.

He added that cold-weather clothing sales were higher than expected. “The weather turning cold helped there,” he said.

Howard said except for some traffic problems early in the morning, everything went smoothly. “We are looking at another good Black Friday. We had a good one last year too. Sherwood and the surrounding area always supports us,” he said.

Fraser, the operations manager at the Home Depot in Cabot, said business had been strong all day.

“In past years we’ve had a strong run in the morning and then it’s slowed up, but this year was progressively steady all day.”

Fraser seemed to notice a change in consumer spending this year. “They are shopping wiser. In the past, it’s been a lot of consumable merchandise, but this year it’s been more long-term purchases like appliances of all kinds.”

Telah Sivia, a manager at Cabot’s Kmart, said everything went well for the store. “It was stronger than we expected and most definitely we’ll beat last year’s figures.”

Sivia said customers “were wonderful and very cooperative.”

From what she saw, some of the most popular items sold were “any and all gaming systems and our two-for-one sale on a GE digital camera.”

Customer service at the Walmart in Jacksonville referred media to its corporate office, which said in a recording it would not arrange for any interviews over the weekend.

A Beebe man who braved the lines at 4:40 a.m. at the Cabot Walmart for the electronic sale that started at 5 a.m. said it was much more organized than in past years.

Maps of the store directed customers to the isles with the merchandise they wanted to see, he said. At the front of the lines, they got tickets for their merchandise.

At the end of the lines, they either picked up their merchandise or if the merchandise was large, like the 42-inch television he was buying, they were given a ticket with a bar code.

From taking the first ticket, to checking out to loading took him only about 20 minutes.

“It was chaos two years ago with everyone running around buying televisions,” he said. “People were hitting you with their TVs because they were too large for the carts. It was much better this year. There were still a lot of people but they weren’t bumping into you.”