(Jefferson City, MO) -- With just a few days left till Christmas, shoppers are heading to the stores and opening their wallets.
Dave Overfelt of the Missouri Retailers Association said store owners are telling him that business started off with a bang on Black Friday and the crowds have been steady, if not increasing as the holiday shopping season has continued.
"We're doing much better than we predicted," said Overfelt. "Black Friday was a big start, but we saw a lot of traffic over the (last) weekend, and the traffic continues."
Overfelt said the Saturday before Christmas is called Super Saturday in the retail trade, and when it falls on Christmas Eve, as it does this year, shopping volume is particularly heavy.
"We think this Saturday is going to be a good, solid Super Saturday," said Overfelt. "We don't know if it will be a record breaker, but it's going to be a lot better than the last few years."
The National Retail Federation published statistics that the four day shopping period including Thanksgiving Day and the following weekend brought in $52.4 billion, an all time high and 16 percent above last year's total.
The national federation had predicted holiday sales would increase about 2 percent over last year. But Overfelt said in Missouri, that number may actually turn out to be closer to 4 percent if not higher. He said the period after Christmas, while it may not show up in nationwide statistics, is also a strong period for retail sales.
Though the nation's overall economy has been sluggish during the past calendar year, Overfelt thinks this is the year shoppers have decided to make purchases they've been holding back on.
"The newscasts have been very down...every week there seems to be another disaster, and because of that, I think people have been holding back," said Overfelt. "Now they're finally getting into the swing of things, and they're looking for bargains."
"It's crazy everybody out here shopping for Christmas," said Brad Eldridge, a shopper. "It's busy and with Christmas falling on Sunday this year, you've really got to squeeze some things in here during the week, during the workweek."
PFI in Springfield welcomed customers, including Eldridge, as they tried to finish their holiday shopping.
"People are going to get out and they're going to have a Christmas," said Randy Little, PFI's owner. "Santa Clause will come every Christmas season and this won't be any exception. I think it's going to be good."
Overfelt said retailers have been keeping prices down through the down cycle in the economy as well as keeping inventories low to reduce costs, and while that means there are bargains to be had, they are going quickly.
And that's where and why many shoppers are heading online. The Internet Retailer website said Americans had spent $24.6 billion online between Nov. 1 and Dec. 9. That's up 15 percent from last year. This despite the fact that e-retailers reduced their level of discount activity after the initial
Black Friday/Cyber Monday rush.
While Overfelt's association warns shoppers to exercise caution with online shopping websites, he said many "brick-and-mortar" retailers have come a long way in adapting to the Internet, and even independent stores are using the Internet and social media as never before.
"The vast majority of people still like to go into the store, they like to have the good return policy," said Overfelt. He said online sites can charge restocking fees when items are returned, and customer service sometimes leaves something to be desired.
"You've got to be very careful when you buy from online retailers that don't have a brick-and-mortar store in your area."
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