Get ready to shop
If a national estimate proves correct, Vermont retailers should expect a modest increase in business when the holiday shopping season kicks off in earnest the day after Thanksgiving.
“The National Retail Federation is predicting about 4 percent growth this year,” said Tasha Wallis, executive director of the Vermont Retail Association. “I’ve talked to a variety of retailers who are feeling — the phrase is always cautiously optimistic — because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
While the major retailers and online competition presents a challenge for family-owned shops, Wallis said Vermont has a reputation for supporting its local stores.
She said this coming weekend a number of local stores around the state will be participating in “Small Business Saturday.”
On Black Friday, downtown Montpelier is holding its fourth annual Flannel Friday. Participating stores offer a discount to shoppers who come into the store wearing flannel.
Phayvanh Luekhamhan, executive director of Montpelier Alive, the organization that represents downtown merchants.
“Basically it’s our own version of Black Friday,” Luekhamhan said. “The idea is to give folks a more laid back, less stressful way to shop for the holiday season but still get in on some really great deals in our downtown stores.”
She said for those who forget to wear flannel, participating stores will be selling flannel pins.
Luekhamhan said sales on Flannel Friday last year “were up considerably” from the prior year. She said better promotion coupled with events and an improving economy all helped to boost sales.
She also said there is a growing public awareness about the need to support local businesses .
At Tattersall’s Clothing Emporium on Merchants Row, manager Jenn Pattillo agreed shopping local is catching on.
“There’s a growing segment of people more mindful of their communities,” Pattillo said.
She said Tattersall’s has carved a niche, “crafting its inventory” with as much American-made and sustainable men’s and women’s clothing and accessories as possible.
Economist Richard Heaps said based on sales tax collections during the first three months of the state’s fiscal year (July through October), that upward trend is likely to continue with retailers seeing a nice increase in sales over last year.
Working in the state’s favor is a lower unemployment rate than the national average, said Heaps, an economist with Northern Economic Consulting in Westford. He also said the state is benefiting from a rebound in the travel and tourism sector.
Regarding all the fiscal cliff “chatter” in Washington, he said that’s not likely to affect consumer’s spending habits over the holidays.
“I think the normal people of the world will consider it just the usual Washington stuff and until something happens, they won’t necessarily act on it,” Heaps said.
Wallis said the face of retailing and retail shopping has changed. She said shoppers can use their smartphones to check prices by simply walking into a store, “scan a barcode and immediately compare it to an online price or even a local price.”
According to Wallis, about half of consumers have smartphones and seven out of 10 of those consumers will be using their phones when they go shopping.
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