Retailers pleased with Christmas shopping season

Kathryn Stacy / For the Transcript

Stephanie Peters loads her car with groceries after shopping at Target in Norman on Tuesday. Local retailers say sales were strong over the holiday season. Retail sales

increased 3.4% nationally over the 2018 holiday shopping season.

Christmas shopping numbers won't be finalized for a few more days, but some Norman retailers are happy with the holiday business that came their way.

Jennifer Austin, co-owner of Occasions, which is located in Carriage Plaza on West Main Street, was pleased with the volume of customers that shopped at her store and Norman's support of locally owned businesses.

"I think people are appreciating the personal care and service they get from a mom-and-pop shop. The holiday [shopping] season went very well. I heard several people say they like shopping local because they couldn't get what they were looking for online or it was back ordered or it would take too long," she said.

Occasions is a fine stationery, gifts and gourmet store.

Holiday retail sales increased 3.4% this year, according to preliminary numbers in Mastercard's post-holiday sales report.

And while local retailers reported strong sales, online shopping grew nearly 19% compared to 2018.

"E-commerce sales hit a record high this year with more people doing their holiday shopping online," said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO and Chairman of Saks Inc. said in the report. "Due to a later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omnichannel sales earlier in the season, meeting consumers' demand for the best deals across all channels and devices."

Artifactory co-owner Amy Baldwin countered the national report by saying she wasn't as worried this year about online competition as in previous years since customers are now forced to pay sales tax with online purchases and the increase in "porch pirates" who steal gifts delivered to homes.

"I know I think twice now before I order online anymore," Baldwin said.

Baldwin also said a change in location helped elevate Christmas shopping figures by at least 50%. Artifactory is a store that sells eclectic, hand-made, vintage-inspired decor and apparel, including OU and Cleveland Brown pillows. The owners also teach crafting classes.

"It [holiday shopping] was better than last year and I think a lot of that is because we moved about two blocks and are in a better spot [on Main Street]" she said.

In addition, Artifactory, 106 E. Main Street, is open five to six days a week now and has been joined by another business that focuses on quilting services.

"They attract a lot of people from other states and then they see that we are a gift store. That was really good for us," she said.

Moving to their new location sparked interest from Norman residents who apparently didn't know Artifactory was in business. In addition, foot traffic has increased since the business is located across from Sooner Theatre.

"We [the store] were right in the middle of the Christmas parade this year and I think that helped, too," Baldwin said.

Shelley Cox, owner of Cayman's, 2001 W, Main Street, described her Christmas shopping figures as "fantastic."

"Overall, it was a great season" she said. "It was probably up slightly from last Christmas. I'm very, very happy."

For Cox, customers were still coming into the upscale women's clothing store for post-Christmas shopping.

"People are still coming in today [Friday]," she said.

The Mastercard report showed apparel sales nationally grew 1% over last year.

Jewelry sales grew 1.8%, according to the report.

Gina Mitchell, of Mitchell's Jewelry, said diamond hoops and studs were a favorite among their customers. Mitchell, like many of the store owners, said the shortened shopping season provided fewer days for people to buy.

"We saw more people shopping right up through Christmas Eve afternoon," she wrote in an email. "Holiday proposals were as popular as ever so that made for busy time in our bridal area."

Mitchell Jewelry employees also had the privilege of witnessing a marriage proposal inside the store.

"A Christmas Eve proposal right in the showroom was for sure a special moment we will all remember," Mitchell wrote.

Derick Colwell, general manager of Sooner Mall, said shopping traffic and trends remained positive in 2019. Specific traffic numbers are confidential and could not be released, he said. Although the shopping season was a week shorter than usual, the number of holiday customers remained steady.

"It was the same pattern as the past five years, but the holiday shopping season doesn't stop at Christmas. It continues to roll on until the end of the year," he said.

Colwell also noted there were no security issues at the mall during the shopping season.

"We had a positive feel from the community with everyone coming here," he said.

The Mastercard report showed department stores saw an overall sales decline of 1.8%, but had online sales growth of 6.9%. Sales of electronics and appliances were up 4.6%; home furniture and furnishings grew 1.3%.

At the city level, Norman officials are hoping the sales taxes collected during holiday sales will equal or surpass last year's figures. However, those numbers won't be released from the Oklahoma Tax Commission until mid-February.

Still, Norman received good news earlier this month based on October retail sales. Sales tax receipts almost totaled $6.5 million compared to $6 million for the same time period a year ago. At the same time, Moore and Noble also showed substantial increases for their October sales. Cleveland County received $760,017 in December compared to $701,121 for the same period a year ago, according to tax commission figures.

City officials did not return telephone calls for comment on December's receipts.

Tim Farley

366-3539

tfarley@normantranscript.com

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