Holiday forecasts show more hope

December 7, 2009
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Michigan retailers are showing greater confidence in a better holiday shopping season, but there’s no doubt the health of the overall economy is the No. 1 issue on everyone’s mind.

Retailers are gearing up for the year’s biggest season by stressing everything from lower prices to free services to “old-fashioned” holiday values and decorations.

In a turnaround from last year, slightly more Michigan Retailers Association members expect sales increases than declines this holiday season, according to the most recent Michigan Retail Index. Optimists outnumber those projecting declines by 38 to 36 percent, with 26 percent expecting sales to remain at last year’s levels.

Taken together, that means nearly two-thirds — 64 percent — expect as good or better a holiday season than last year. A year ago, only 55 percent fit that category, with those expecting red ink outnumbering black-inkers 45 to 37 percent.

Nationally, economists’ forecasts for total holiday sales are mixed. Analysts’ predictions range anywhere from -3.5 percent to +1 percent.

We believe this will be a better season for many retailers, despite the challenges out there.

While high unemployment levels remain a big obstacle, we have seen gains since April and expect that momentum to continue through the end of the year. Our national and state economies are more stable than at this time last year, and our members have greater confidence in their businesses and consumers.

I know one thing for certain. Our members are sure working hard to make it a better season.

National reports show a “turning back the clock” trend among retailers this holiday season to help shoppers embrace holiday traditions from better times.

That means more decorations featuring traditional red, green and gold colors instead of trendier hues. It also means ball ornaments, snow globes, gingerbread houses and peppermint crunch cookies in place of upside down Christmas trees and stylish peacocks. Santa Claus and family scenes also will take prominent places in many retail promotions.

James P. Hallan is president and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association.

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