Retailers Can Win Despite Shaky Economy

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Depending on whom you ask, Santa will be either be dropping lumps of coal or chunks of treasure into retailers’ Christmas stockings this holiday season.

Bob Ware, executive director of the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, has seen the economic signs pointing in both directions, too.

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Some business analysts predict that the nation’s shoppers will clamp down on their paychecks during this holiday buying season. But Bob Ware, executive director of the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, believes local merchants can increase their own odds of success.

But he also believes that, with a little savvy, local retailers can win the holiday sales game no matter what.

“This Christmas sales season is going to reflect, to some degree, the downturn in our national economy,” Ware says. “Arizona has not been as affected as the whole United States, because we’re in a growth state. Just by having people come in, we tend to have a buoyancy to our economy. That’s reflected quite a bit by our housing starts.”

Earlier this month, the Consumer Federation of America and the Credit Union National Association predicted that the nation’s shoppers will clamp down on their paychecks during the season, which officially begins today (Friday).

The National Retail Federation is saying shoppers will spend a little more freely this year despite the shaky economy.

The retail federation estimates nearly $284 billion will be spent on holiday shopping this season. That’s a four percent increase over 2001, which breaks down to about $863 per shopper.

For the third straight year, shoppers said they were cutting back their holiday spending. In fact, the report showed 21 percent of consumers questioned planned to spend less money than last year. About 15 percent said they would spend more. But about 60 percent said they plan to spend as much or more this year than last, according to the report.

In this realm where the holiday season accounts for as much as 60 percent of retailers’ annual profits one can always find dueling prognosticators.

Yet another survey, by New York-based NPD Group, found that 89 percent of the 2,300 people it questioned expect to spend the same or less on Christmas purchases and that they expect to spend $661.

Ware’s advice to Rim country retailers regarding all these numbers?

Ignore them and prepare for their customers’ spending mood, however thrifty or generous it may turn out to be.

“I would carry high-end stuff and low-end stuff and stuff in-between,” Ware said. “There are buyers here in town who will realistically shop for the $4,000 or $8,000 diamond ring or the Rolex watch or new car. And there’s a lot of people who are going to be stuck with just a few dollars, and they’re going to have to stretch them as far as they can.”

To help them do just that, Ware suggested that retailers “take all the stuff you know you’re going to mark down eventually, mark it down right off the bat. Or put out 5- or 10-percent-off coupons. Give that discount right up front. Be inventive.”

Another tip Ware offers is for retailers to pay attention to the way they do business year-round.

“The retailers that do the best job, always, are the ones that give you good customer service as soon as you walk in,” he says. “You ask someone where something is, they show you and then say, ‘What else can I help you with?’ They have newspaper ads that are immediately familiar as soon as you see them. They go out of their way for you. If you go in there asking for help with a fund-raiser, they’ll chip in.

“The businesses that do those things do well all year, not just during the holiday shopping season.”

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