WASHINGTON – Holiday sales are expected to rise 4.5 percent to 5 percent over last year in Maryland, a turnaround from the previous three “disappointing” seasons, according to the Maryland Retailers Association.
“You can’t kill Santa Claus but we’ve wounded him in the past couple of years,” said association President Tom Saquella.
The association’s optimistic forecast, scheduled to be released Thursday, is based on both economic indicators and increased confidence among association members who were surveyed. Holiday sales last year, by comparison, were only 1.5 percent over the year before.
“I think the economy’s a lot better now. Interest rates are low. . . . I think employment is starting to pick up. The president’s tax credits help,” Saquella said.
The Maryland projection is in line with the prediction by the International Council of Shopping Centers that holiday sales nationwide will grow 4 percent. The council cited disposable income growth in the fourth quarter, a strong housing market, rising household net wealth and a better “geopolitical climate.”
But the international shopping council also cautions that consumer confidence is shaky and strong back-to-school sales this fall may not be an indicator of strong Christmas sales.
“That’s why we’ve increased it to 4 percent, which is kind of middle of the road,” said council spokeswoman Patrice Duker.
The council projects particularly strong sales in digital electronics, video games, clothing and jewelry, as well as luxury items.
“What we’re seeing is that consumers are beginning to go back to pampering and saying, ‘You know what, I really want it . . . I’m going to go get it,'” Duker said.
She said people are shopping more at high-end department stores and buying more expensive jewelry, which usually indicates an improving retail market.
The Maryland Retailers Association also looks for an increase in purchases across retail categories, but particularly in apparel and electronics.
Marion Julier, the sales general manager for Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, said her merchants are optimistic about sales in the coming holiday season.
“We’ve seen a steady increase at least in the latter part of the year. In the midyear it started to turn around and be more positive,” she said.
At the mall, Julier said she has seen an increase in sales of higher-end jewelry, which can be an indication of good Christmas sales. “People are starting to feel more comfortable with the economy,” she said.
Bowie Town Center manager David Gott said sales have been rising this year compared with last year in his mall, too. For that reason, he agrees that it will be a better holiday season.
To drum up some business for stores here, the Maryland Retailers Association is promoting a shop Maryland for the holidays campaign with advertisements and public service announcements featuring first lady Kendel Ehrlich.
“I’m not going to tell you that this is really going to be a big boost in sales,” Saquella said of the campaign, “but we’re trying to get Marylanders excited about shopping in stores.”