Retailers rebound after storm-filled shopping weekendsby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Consumers got a chance this past weekend to make up for lost shopping time caused by the big snowstorm earlier this month, but it will be a while before sales reports reveal if shoppers really step up their holiday spending this year -- or not.
Weather caused no major problems a week after an intense snowstorm blanketed Minnesota and the rest of Midwest and kept shoppers stranded at home.
Retailers tried to pull in shoppers his past weekend with deep discounts like gift cards that effectively reduced the price of PlayStation 3s to $199 and Apple iPhones to about $50.
Officials with The Mall of America in Bloomington, say the retail behemoth drew an estimated 200,000 shoppers Saturday, making it one of its busiest days ever and the busiest day so far this year.
Jason Douglas of Hopkins was at the mall, trying to catch up on shopping he didn't get to do two weekends ago. He said he wasn't not alone.
"I've seen a lot of tweets from friends that they're out here, they're out elsewhere," he said. "It's a little bit of scramble now. I'm sure people will be out. With Friday being Christmas Eve, they'll be out that day as well."
But Douglas said the mall wasn't nearly as crowded as he expected it would be.
"I think traffic is a little down from what they were hoping for," he said. "I was expecting to be bumping shoulders with people. Having a lot of little kids running around. But I've been able to walk freely through the mall on any level."
Malls reported higher traffic over the weekend, including "Super Saturday," the Saturday before Christmas. It's one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Research firm ShopperTrak expects it will be the third-busiest this year. The lack of any major storms nationwide was a boon for shoppers.
How good a weekend retailers had financially is still unclear. Area malls and major retailers don't disclose their daily sales. And the International Council of Shopping Centers has yet to release a national retail sales estimate that includes the weekend.
Some shoppers at the Mall of America said people seem to be spending more freely this year.
Dennis Greer of Owatonna said people seem ready to spend, judging by the steady traffic he's seen headed for the Twin Cities and its shopping malls.
"We have not seen any slowdown in traffic on Interstate 35 coming north," he said. "I assume a lot of people are coming to the metro area from points south to spend some money. I just don't think the economy is as bad as people say it is."
Other shoppers see things differently.
Annemarie O'Meara of Excelsior ran into fewer hassles than she expected.
"I found a parking spot here at the mall within 15 minutes, which really shocked me," she said.
Some shoppers observed people seemed to be carrying fewer bags than in years past.
Margo Dworak of Gelena, Ill. was in town for her daughter's graduation from nursing school.
"I see a lot of people walking around but not a lot of people walking around holding a lot of bags, not like it used to, " she said. "Everybody used to have six, seven, eight bags when they were here. Now you see people with a couple."
Even if consumers' views are mixed, the retail industry is decidedly optimistic. This year, the National Retail Federation expects sales to rise 3.3 percent in November and December, up from its prior forecast of 2.3 percent. Last year, holiday retail sales rose less than half a percent.
At least one expert doesn't buy the idea that weather will hamper sales this year.
"Weather will be incidental to this season," said retail consultant Howard Davidowitz.
Davidowitz said the big problem for retailers is the economy, not the weather. He's been forecasting about a 1.5 percent increase sales for the season, and Davidowitz says retailers will be forced to slash prices to achieve even that small increase.
- All Things Considered, 12/20/2010, 5:20 p.m.