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Retailers are expecting a big rise in holiday sales over last year

Natalie Paul of Uniondale was feeling jolly about

Natalie Paul of Uniondale was feeling jolly about her Black Friday deals at Target in Westbury last Thanksgiving. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Retailers started decking their aisles weeks ago in hopes of coaxing shoppers to get into the spirit of spending.

The official kickoff of the holiday shopping season — the five-day period that includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday — is expected to be an indicator of how strongly retail will perform over the entire season.

Based on last year’s poor retail performance, which saw an increase of about 2% year over year, there is nowhere to go but up, retail experts said.

But this year, the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas is six days shorter than last year’s, which means concerned retailers have been offering more discounts, and they started earlier.

Still, the shorter shopping period won’t make that much difference, since the number of people consumers plan to buy gifts for won’t change, retail experts said.

“I think [retailers] who look at this might already be planning for a bad holiday season,” said Ray Hartjen, a spokesman for RetailNext, a San Jose, California-based retail analytics company.

On Long Island, the retailers that will do well include BJ’s Wholesale Club, Walmart, Costco and Target, in part because they offer high value, said retail expert Burt Flickinger III, who founded Manhattan-based Strategic Resource Group and has studied Long Island retail.

Also, nontraditional grocery stores, such as discounter Aldi and the warehouse clubs, will see record sales on the Island, he said.

Gift cards are the most popular item on wish lists for the 13th year in a row, according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.  In fact, 59% of people are requesting gift cards, followed by 52% who want clothes and accessories, 35% asking for books/movies/music/video games and 29% who want electronics. 

At Brownstones Coffee, which has four shops, in Amityville, West Islip, East Northport and East Hanover, New Jersey, 60 to 70% of gift card sales occur in November and December, said Christina Walberg, director of franchise development for the Amityville-based chain.

Business will be brisk on Black Friday, as the coffee shop is popular for college students and others returning home for Thanksgiving break to reconnect with friends and family, she said.

“We offer a really great, unique menu, and it’s just a nice place for people to get together and share a meal,” she said.

Last year, U.S. retail sales in November and December increased only 2.1% to $701.2 billion compared with the two-month period in 2017, making 2018 the smallest rise for holiday sales since 2009, when the United States was in a recession, said James Bohnaker, associate director and economist in the Boston office of IHS Markit, a market information service headquartered in London.

The season was hurt by several factors, including the stock market plunging 15% in the three weeks leading up to Christmas, concern over tariffs and the U.S. trade policy, and uncertainty leading up to the federal government shutdown a few days before Christmas that left 1 million workers unsure about their paychecks, he said.

U.S. retail sales in November and December 2019 are expected to be $733.7 billion, which is a 4.6% increase from last year’s sales in that period, he said.

“A lot of that will be from very strong online retail sales,” which are expected to account for a record 20% of all holiday sales, Bohnaker said.

At the two Renarts sneaker stores in East Northport and South Huntington, Black Friday doesn’t account for much of an increase in sales, said Ankur Amin, chief executive officer of TGS Holdings, the East Northport-based parent company of the stores.

But on Small Business Saturday, sales surge 15% to 20% annually, he said.

Amin said that 20% discounts will be offered on Friday and Saturday at Renarts and a new sister store, clothing boutique Crusoe & Sons, in Huntington.

“It seems like families do appreciate that Small Business Saturday is our thing and they come by to support that,” he said.

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