Owner Jen Singh (L) rings up Susan Kent in her shop, the Garage Door Studio, during Small Business Saturday in Avondale Estates on Nov. 30, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgians’ holiday spending helps buoy retailers, especially online

Pat Darden was in her element Thursday afternoon as she weaved her way through the throngs of customers at Perimeter Mall. Though post-holiday bargains were plentiful online, she wanted to peruse the merchandise in-person.

“I want to touch it. I want to feel it. I want to see it,” said Darden, who is semi-retired.

On the other side of the shopping center, Shandra Thomas took a different view as she waited for her sister, who was hunting for discounted Christmas decor.

“It’s just better and quicker” to shop online, said the 43-year-old Stockbridge paralegal.

It’s a sentiment shared by a growing number of Americans. While overall retail sales increased by an estimated 3.4% between Nov. 1 and Christmas Eve, that growth was largely fueled by online sales, which swelled by 18.8%, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse.

Amazon stock rose 4.4% Thursday after the company reported a record holiday shopping season. It was the best day for Amazon stock since January 30th, with the company’s share price increasing by $79.56, to $1,868.88, on the Nasdaq.

End-of-year traffic is critical for retailers. They often rely on holiday purchases to buoy their annual sales.

Employees fill online orders at the Amazon.com fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, on Nov. 27, 2017. Bloomberg photo by Victor J. Blue
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The research firm Customer Growth Partners reported that Dec. 21 — “Super Saturday” — broke retail records, grossing $34.4 billion in sales. That was anchored by mega-retailers Walmart, Target and Costco, as well as the online giant Amazon.

But brick-and-mortar stores face ever-increasing competition from e-commerce sites, which represent only a fraction of retail transactions.

For the type of department stores that anchor malls like Perimeter, business declined by 1.8% compared to last holiday season, according to Mastercard. And their online sales grew by only 6.9%.

Some retail chains have gotten creative in order to draw customers.

Earlier this year, Kohl’s announced its more than 1,150 stores would accept return items from Amazon customers, saving them the trouble of shipping back to the e-commerce giant. Kohl’s will pack, label and ship Amazon returns for freebetting that people who come into the store to take advantage of that might also look around and make purchases.

In Gwinnett, the Mall of Georgia set aside prime parking spaces for customers returning, exchanging and picking up items ordered online. The parking is reservable through an app for customers who’ll be inside the mall for only 30 minutes. But for $5 an hour, they can extend their visits.

Attracting customers has not been an issue for Kimberly Jones, who operates a pop-up calendar kiosk in a corner of Perimeter Mall. Somewhat surprisingly in this digital age, business has been “booming,” she said, at Go! Calendar, Toys & Games since Black Friday.

“I personally thought mall shopping was dead,” said Jones. “But that’s not the case here.”

Jones said her customers fell into two major categories: Baby Boomers who have purchased large, glossy wall calendars for decades and Gen Zers seeking some nostalgia with calendars featuring the likes of Dragon Ball Z.

The main entrance to Perimeter Mall is shown on May 15, 2015, in Dunwoody, Ga. PHOTO / JASON GETZ
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Many of the shoppers making the rounds on Thursday were completing another post-holiday tradition: making returns.

Candace Hamilton didn’t come to the East Cobb Kohl’s with an Amazon return. She came with an item purchased from the department store. In her hands was a brand-new crock pot, which was given to her by her only son.

“This is a thoughtless gift for a woman my age,” Hamilton said, in a tone that made it difficult to know if she was joking. “I already have several crock pots. Why would someone get me another one?”

She was looking for an electric teapot instead. After about a half hour in the store, she walked out empty handed.

They were out of electric teapots.

“I’ll find one somewhere else,” she said. “I just took the cash.”

Edward Fleming of Douglasville, meanwhile, was in line exchanging a pair of store-brand corduroy pants that his daughter sent him from New Jersey for a pair of Levi’s corduroys like the one he was wearing.

He said that, despite the high volume of spending this holiday season, he and his family didn’t get caught up in it.

“Christmas is not hectic for me, in terms of spending,” he said. “For us, gift-giving is not just one day on the 25th of December. For us, it is every day. All year.”

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