By Raymund Lee Flandez
ANNAPOLIS – Maryland merchants, responding to cautious consumers and a shortened shopping season, are expecting holiday sales to rise a scant 2 percent over 2001, according to a Maryland Retailers Association survey released Tuesday.
“Quite honestly, that’s on the low side,” said Tom Saquella, president of the 800-member statewide trade group. “Most retailers would like to see it close to 4 percent.”
An uncertain economy fueled by talk of war in Iraq, the West Coast port slowdown and speculation about an increased sales tax will affect consumer confidence and sales, Saquella said.
“People thinking about going to war doesn’t really put them in the mood for shopping in the holiday season,” he said.
Last year, despite the economic slowdown following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the group came close to hitting its projected 2.5 percent rise in holiday sales.
Retailers are hoping aggressive discounts and promotions starting this week will counter a late start of the holiday season. Typically, holiday shopping starts the Friday after Thanksgiving but retailers, worried about getting consumers in stores, are getting a head start.
“I think we’re probably going to see some more discounting this year,” said Gene Condon, general manager of Arundel Mills in Hanover. “Retail in general has been impacted over the past several months. I think that we’re going to see some retailers eliminate some inventory.”
The mall, in its second full year of operation, expects sales in its established stores to rise 8 to 9 percent, Condon said. The 200 retail and entertainment stores are expecting big crowds in the last week or 10 days before the season ends.
Ray Kenney, vice president of Pasadena Furniture in Pasadena, is expecting sales to be a bit ahead of last year, which included the best fourth-quarter the store ever had with a 30 percent jump over 2000. Sales for full rooms have averaged $1,700, up from $1,400 last year.
Kenney doesn’t plan to discount prices.
“We’re not forced to lower prices beyond our margins to get our business in,” he said.
Home-related merchandise and leisure goods, such as books, sporting equipment and compact discs, should be strong sellers, Saquella said. Apparel sales should bounce back from generally weak back-to-school and fall sales.
Expected hot-selling items include miniature remote-control cars and Mattel’s Rapunzel Barbie, along with James Bond and other video games. In jewelry sales, colored stones will challenge gold and diamond sales. DVD players, big screen TVs and digital cameras will lead in electronics.