Holiday shopping gets off to slow start for some stores But analysts predict sales for whole season will surpass last year

December 02, 1997|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Holiday shopping got off to a slow start for some retailers the day after Thanksgiving, though analysts still predict overall sales gains for the crucial season.

Retail sales dipped an average 0.5 percent in the state and 2.1 percent in the Baltimore metropolitan region, compared with the same day a year ago, according to the TeleCheck Services' retail index, an indicator based on purchases by check.

Retailers and analysts blamed earlier-than-usual promotions, a later-than-usual Hanukkah, which falls on Dec. 24 this year, and rainy weather for the slower start. The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, has traditionally kicked off a season that can account for up to 40 percent of annual sales.

"Some of the larger stores did better because of strong $l promotions out there, so they got the lion's share of the business" -- though some sales starting last Wednesday might have drained some of the Friday business, said Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. "The smaller stores were satisfied, but they expect most of their business in the last two weeks of the holidays."

Nationally, consumers boosted sales at stores open at least a year by 2.2 percent, TeleCheck, a check acceptance company, reported. It based its survey on a comparison of the volume of authorized checks written by consumers at more than 27,000 locations.

In the mid-Atlantic region, sales rose 0.5 percent, with increases in the District of Columbia, Virginia and New Jersey, and decreases in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Fewer checks were written both in the state and in the Baltimore area, though the average dollar amount increased, said William Ford, senior economic adviser for TeleCheck.

In parts of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, "bad weather hit at the wrong time of the day when malls had big sales," Ford said.

Even with Galactic Saucer Launchers flying out the doors of the Natural Wonders store in Towson Town Center by the hundreds on Friday, "It was slower than last year," said Barbara Boynton, manager of the science and nature shop.

"The day before Thanksgiving we doubled from last year," Boynton said. "So going into [Friday] we thought we're going to get really busy. It was like, 'Is anybody coming?' "

TeleCheck still anticipates a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in sales during the 27-day period leading to Christmas.

And Saquella maintains that Maryland retailers should see an average sales increase of 3.5 percent over last year.

Ford noted that Black Friday is no longer the biggest shopping day, but instead offers a glimpse of spending for the rest of the season. Last year, the day after Thanksgiving ranked as the fourth biggest holiday shopping day, with the heaviest spending the week before Christmas.

In another measure of holiday spending released yesterday, Visa U.S.A. Inc. reported $1.4 billion in retail transactions on Friday, an increase of nearly 17 percent from the same day a year earlier.

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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