WASHINGTON – Maryland merchants should see a 4.5 to 5 percent increase in holiday sales this year, a welcome improvement after dismal receipts for much of the third quarter, according to a state retailers group.
The Maryland Retailers Association drew on economic indicators and a survey of its membership to predict the moderate sales growth, which is slightly less than the 6 percent rise in holiday sales last year from the previous year.
“With the presidential elections behind us and gas prices stabilizing, we expect people will be able to again focus on shopping” for the holidays, said Tom Saquella, president of the retailers group.
Saquella said retailers saw a marked decline in sales over the last three months due to what he termed “bitter and divisive” elections and record-high gas prices. But as consumers adjust to the cost of gas and turn their attention away from politics, sales should pick up and hold into the holiday shopping season.
That was true for Gus Pelzer, a Silver Spring resident who was loading computer equipment into his car outside a Gaithersburg Best Buy on Friday.
“I’ll be buying more this year,” Pelzer said. “I’m looking at everyone this holiday season, not just family.”
Local retailers anticipate strong sales of consumer electronics, including handheld gadgets, as well as software such as computer games, according to the association.
Saquella also forecast healthy demand for high-end merchandise, including leather home furnishings and jewelry. That sentiment seemed to be shared by merchants.
“We’re very optimistic,” said Judia Herrington, store manager at Littman Jewelers in Annapolis. “It was easier to sell this summer, and you’re not hearing so many people say they’ve been laid off this year.”
Herrington, who has been in jewelry sales for over 25 years, said the day after Thanksgiving remains the best barometer of holiday demand. But she is still predicting sales will be as strong as last year, or stronger.
“We’re starting to take a lot of special orders, and they’re ordering earlier this year,” she said. “Items, too, tend to be more expensive.”
Maryland’s projected retail growth is expected to edge national sales trends, according to data from the Washington-based National Retail Federation. It expects consumers to spend roughly $220 billion nationwide this holiday season, or $700 per person, an increase of about 4.5 percent over last year.
But not all merchants are expected to do well.
Saquella’s group singled out toy stores as one sector that may not fare well this holiday, which he attributes to the lack of a “must-have” toy this season. That point was not disputed by store owners.
“We were originally forecasting to exceed last year’s numbers, but it’s been tough going so far,” said Chris Desch, owner of aMuse, a Baltimore-based toy retailer. “If we do well, it’ll be a surprise.”
Saquella said Maryland retailers enjoyed one of their best holiday seasons last year, after three consecutive disappointing seasons. That 6 percent increase fueled one the “best shopping periods in years” during much of the first half this year, he said.
Retailers are also hoping growth this holiday will last well beyond the first half of 2005.
“We like to see any momentum be sustained throughout the year,” Saquella said.
-30- CNS 11-12-04