Retailers look forward to big shopping weekend

LANSING – Michigan retailers are looking forward to this big holiday shopping weekend – the final one before Christmas.

“The weekend before Christmas is traditionally one of the two biggest of the season and the year,” said MRA President and CEO James P. Hallan. “Combine that with the fact 90 percent of shoppers say they still have purchases to make, and it points to an exciting weekend.”

A survey released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation found that, on average, shoppers have completed 53.5 percent of their lists. Only 10 percent say they are finished.

Michigan retailers went into the season with the highest expectations since 2012. Two of every three said they expect to increase sales over last year’s holiday season. The average projected change from last year was a plus 2 percent.

Hallan pointed to Michigan’s improved economic conditions as reasons for the optimism, including a lower unemployment rate, lower gasoline prices, lower natural gas and propane costs and higher consumer confidence.

November retail sales in Michigan were positive but lighter than expected, according to the latest Michigan Retail Index survey, a joint project of Michigan Retailers Association (MRA) and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Hallan said he expects retailers to hit their projections by the end of December. The weekend starting the day after Christmas also will be big for shopping because of the redemption of gift cards, merchandise exchanges and clearance sales.

He said the warm weather is helping more people get out and shop, even though it has cut into sales of coats, boots and other cold and snow-related merchandise.

For November, the Michigan Retail Index survey showed 39 percent of retailers increased sales over the same month last year, while 45 percent recorded declines and 16 percent reported no change. The results create a seasonally adjusted performance index of 50.2, down from 54.1 in October. A year ago November the performance index stood at 48.1.

The 100-point index gauges the performance of the state’s overall retail industry, based on monthly surveys conducted by MRA and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Detroit branch. Index values above 50 generally indicate positive activity; the higher the number, the stronger the activity.

Looking forward, 42 percent of retailers expect sales during December–February to increase over the same period last year, while 34 percent project a decrease and 24 percent no change. That puts the seasonally adjusted outlook index at 62.6, down from 66.6 in October. A year ago November the outlook index stood at 64.1.

Note: William Strauss, senior economist and economic advisor with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, can be reached at 312.322.8151.