December 04, 2013

Shopping Season Off To A Good Start

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By Rick Murphy

The streets in East Hampton Village were crowded with shoppers. Ditto in East Hampton. In Bridgehampton, shoppers were laden with packages – The Marder's Holiday Open House on Snake Hollow Road was a particular hot spot (See cover, layout, right).

By all accounts, local merchants did well in the face of the mammoth Black Friday promotions that steered shoppers to malls and Super Stores. In addition, a relatively new phenomenon gained steam nationally – stores staging huge sales on Thanksgiving Day itself, and even staying open the entire night. At Tanger Mall in Riverhead, for example, stores opened at 10 PM on Thanksgiving and offered steep discounts to shoppers who showed up after 3 AM.

"People out here are not going to rush to some midnight special," said Marina Van, the Executive Director of the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce.

Ironically, the New York Times reported that Thanksgiving openings negatively affect Black Friday sales, as do Cyber Monday purchases, according to Walter Loeb, writing for Forbes. "I think the frenzy to offer great values on the post Thanksgiving shopping days may have backfired. Stores did well, but it did not bring much more business than in past years," Loeb wrote. "I estimate that sales increased for most retailers by fractional amounts."

The local economy depends on local shoppers, because the money spent recirculates within the community. "Small Business Saturday" a shop local movement, has been embraced locally (see lest week's Independent at indyeastend.com), at least judging by the crowds.

"It was packed in East Hampton Village," Van said. "It was as busy as any Thanksgiving weekend I've seen." Merchants have learned to compete with the bigger box stores, too, by becoming more competitive. "Everyone has a rack of sale items," she noted.

Sag Harbor Village was packed, said Van, who lives there. "My little grandson said `Who are all these people?'" she related.

Local restaurants reported packed houses, and that's good thing for local economies. According to AMEX, local restaurants return twice as much money back into local economies that fast food outlets do.

Early reports peg Apple as an early leader in holiday sales. InfoScout analyzed 3,000 Target Black Friday shopping receipts and determined that the iPad Air 16GB, iPad mini 16GB and iPad Air 32GB models were the number one, two and three sellers at Target. Forbes reported the iPad Mini was the top seller at Wal-Mart.

There were some major surprises.

Federal Bureau of Investigation reported an all-time one-day high for background check requests from gun buyers last Friday – a whopping 129,848, more than 40,000 more than the previous year.

Friday marked the fifth anniversary of the death of a shopper at the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream. Crowds, fueled by Black Friday hype, began gathering at the store on Thanksgiving Day. When the doors finally opened at 5 AM the crowd trampled an employee stationed at the front door.

"This year the whole dynamic was changed by Thursday night openings followed by more specials on Friday with an additional promotional push by many stores offering deep discounts," Loeb opined.

Despite the Shop Local movement, preliminary reports indicate about 130 million shoppers purchased items online on Monday. Van noted though, that most local shops offer unique items not available on the Internet.

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