DAYTONA BEACH — In a world of online shoppers, Calvin Leiter, 62, still prefers buying holiday gifts the old-fashioned way — at the mall.
“I miss it, the social interaction with people,” said Leiter, a picture-framer from New Smyrna Beach. “People who shop online don’t care about actually seeing what they are buying, touching it, trying it on. That’s just something that I miss.”
[Thanksgiving shopping savings: Gobble up deals in The News-Journal on Wednesday or Thursday]
On a recent afternoon, Leiter was seated comfortably on a bench outside Dillard’s in the Volusia Mall, studying a Spanish textbook while his wife was off considering a few early holiday purchases. The mall was uncluttered by shoppers on a mid-week afternoon, but retailers and industry experts expect that to change when the annual holiday shopping season kicks into high gear on Thanksgiving weekend.
Nationally, consumers report that they plan to spend an average of $1,007.24 during the holiday season this year, up 4.1 percent from the $967.13 reported in 2017, according to a newly released annual survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.
The consumer survey arrives in the wake of the federation’s annual holiday spending forecast, which takes into account a variety of economic factors to project overall spending rather than per-consumer spending. It estimated that holiday retail sales in November and December will be up between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent over 2017 for a total ranging from $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion.
Tariffs on a wide range of consumer goods from China took effect in September, but the federation noted that retailers imported record volumes of merchandise ahead of the tariffs this past summer, so effects on pricing during the holiday season is expected to be minimal.
For the 12th year in a row, gift cards remain the most popular items on wish lists, requested by 60 percent of those surveyed, followed by clothing and accessories at 53 percent, books/movie/music (37 percent), electronics (29 percent), home decor (23 percent), jewelry (22 percent), personal care or beauty items (19 percent), sporting goods (18 percent) and home improvement items (17 percent).
The consumer survey also reports that an equal percentage of shoppers (55 percent) plan to make purchases online and in department stores. Likewise, 50 percent of online shoppers report that they intend to pick-up items in the stores, potentially drawing more customers to brick-and-mortar businesses.
‘A pretty strong picture’
The Florida Retail Federation, a sister organization that tracks statewide retail and consumer trends, hasn’t yet released its holiday forecast, but the predictions are expected to mirror many of the national findings, said James Miller, spokesman for the Florida federation.
“We’re definitely predicting an increase over last year,” Miller said. “We’re still figuring out what that increase will be. Everything is just positive in Florida right now. We have the lowest unemployment in a decade and, with that come more people with jobs, more people with an income, more money to spend on the holidays.
“Also, we have 120 million tourists, a record-breaking number, coming into Florida,” Miller said. “Most leave with more than what they came with. There’s very high consumer confidence. Home sales remain robust. Add up all those things and it makes for a pretty strong picture of Florida’s economy right now.”
In Florida, the only cloud of uncertainty is the potential impact of the destruction caused by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle, Miller said.
“There were hundreds of thousands of people affected by that, hundreds of businesses damaged or even closed altogether,” Miller said. “It’s tough to figure out what the total impact from that storm will be on the shopping season. For many of those affected, money that would have been spent on gifts will go instead toward recovery and rebuilding efforts, and understandably so.”
‘Zip, and it’s done’
In Volusia County, meanwhile, the Leiters expect to spend about the same amount this year as in recent years on holiday gifts.
“She enjoys more the visiting and looking around,” Leiter said of his wife. “It’s more about that than purchasing a lot of things. We’re disappointed in the decline we see in mall traffic. It’s disappointing that we’re not seeing people shopping brick-and-mortar.”
In the Volusia Mall food court, Valerie and John Valentine, of Daytona Beach, do everything possible to avoid the mall during holiday season.
“Since the kids are older, they all get checks, so we try to avoid the stores at all cost,” Valerie said. “The big stores are too crowded and some of the sales are better before Black Friday, which is just crazy. Some of the people are mean.”
Even when it comes to shopping for grandchildren, the Valentines do it online.
“The kids post wish lists on Amazon and we buy whatever it is there,” Valerie said. “The kids know what they want, the price is better. There’s shipping. It’s just zip, and it’s done.”
Nevertheless, area malls are rolling out the fanfare, giveaways and entertainment and extended hours to entice shoppers away from the ordering on computers, smart phones and portable devices.
The Volusia Mall will be closed on Thanksgiving, but doors will open at 6 a.m. Friday for Black Friday Bash, when shoppers will be greeted with Doorbuster deals for the first 100 people in line, free coffee and hot chocolate, a live DJ from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., selfie station, hourly prizes, a Michael Kors handbag giveaway and a performance by teen singer Shane Patrick from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“We’re looking at a great holiday shopping season for 2018,” said Kristina Circelli, mall marketing director. “There’s been an increase in hiring going into the holiday season, which means retailers are positive about sales as they are looking for more help.
“We’ve seen retailers showing their vote of confidence by making considerable investments in their stores with full renovations and new product additions,” Circelli said. “We’ve invested considerably in the new restaurant district at the former Sears Auto Center. Exact dates haven’t been released for opening the restaurants, but Metro Diner is set to open January 2019 and Bonefish Grill spring 2019.”
At One Daytona, the retail, dining and entertainment complex across the street from Daytona International Speedway, a growing list of tenants will offer holiday shoppers more options, including the newly opened Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Cue restaurant on the west side of Victory Circle.
Other tenants that recently opened at One Daytona include GameTime, the family fun center across the street from Cobb Daytona Luxury Theatres and the Kilwins chocolates store along the north side of Victory Circle on the ground floor of a six-story building where a 145-room Marriott Autograph Collection hotel called The Daytona is set to open early next year.
One Daytona will be open from noon to 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving (optional for tenants); and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Black Friday. Throughout the holidays, the complex will host weekly Family Nights (5-8 p.m., Dec. 4, 11 and 18) with live reindeer, elves, carolers and a holiday art station; Live Holiday Jazz Music (6-9 p.m. Dec. 1, 8, 15, 22); and Sunday Snowdays (3-7 p.m., Dec. 2,9, 16, 23) with Polar Express Train, stilt walkers, snow slide and special guests.
At Tanger Outlets, near Interstate 95 and LPGA Boulevard, the mall will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and remain open for a Moonlight Madness sale through 10 p.m. on Black Friday. Rounding out the weekend, hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 24; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 25.
Tanger will host its Second Annual Tree Lighting presented by Halifax Health from 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 17 near H&M, an event that includes Santa’s arrival at 6:30 p.m. as well as live music, holiday crafts, face-painting, cookie decorating and holiday games.
All merely a warm-up for the holiday shopping rush.