COLUMBIA, SC — Online shopping is up this holiday season, but in the final week of retail until Christmas 2012, local stores have more than held their own.
Local stores are braced for a final, frantic week of shoppers searching through their stores for the perfect gift, even as millions of Christmas packages are on the final leg of shipment to their holiday destinations.
We are doing excellent, said Katie Rook, manager of Be Beep A Toy Shop in Forest Acres, which was packed last week with shoppers looking to complete their lists. I noticed this starting last Christmas: There has been a huge buy local push which we, as obviously a small, locally owned store, appreciate that.
Online sales in 2012 were projected to grow 12 percent to about $96 billion in November and December over 2011 totals as a growing segment of the population shops at the computer instead of at the mall, according to Shop.org.
FedEx, meanwhile, was expecting a 13 percent increase in shipments during the 2012 shopping season over the 2011 holiday shopping season, the online shopping tracker reported.
Yes, I do think online shopping is popular, but I also think shopping local is popular, Rook said. We get lots of people who come in here and would rather buy something from us than buy it from online. I think there is a huge support in our community of local stores.
While online shopping offers the convenience of purchasing from the couch, door-to-door delivery and comparative pricing, many Christmas shoppers still delight in personal customer service, complimentary gift-wrapping and certain other holiday intangibles, Rook said.
If somebody comes in here and says, Oh, I need a gift for somebody but I dont know what to get, well take the time to help you pick it out, Rook said.
Only occasionally, she said, do customers come in, browse the shelves, and scan their electronic devices to price compare, then order from elsewhere.
Like every year, Rook said good classic toys are selling well in 2012, including building blocks, Legos and Hello Kitty.
This year, another toy, Boogie Boards, the LCD drawing tablets with stylus, also are very popular sales items, she said. At $35.99, the modern-day Etch-A-Sketches are one of their best movers, Rook said. Another classic, Pogo sticks are selling well, too, she said.
Be Beep has expanded its regular hours for the holiday to include Sundays from noon to 6 p.m., she said. But the business, located in Forest Acres for 26 years, also sells products online, Rook said, at www.bebeeptoys.com.
Theres no question that online sales are up, said Britt Beemer, consumer expert and CEO of Charleston-based Americas Research Group. Those sales are up, however, based on a very small base, Beemer pointed out.
I joke about the fact that people talk about online sales on Black Friday, Beemer said. Well, they may have been big, but the fact is that Wal-Mart did more in the first hour than online companies did in the total of the whole day.
Still, not only did the number of online shoppers increase in 2012, experts say, but shoppers also are purchasing more items per person on average nine more items per shopper than last year, according to Beemers group.
Online is growing for three basic reasons, Beemer said. First, younger people enjoy shopping that way; secondly, shoppers report in surveys they purchase online after they have gone to a store to make a purchase and the items they wanted were out of stock. So, they check online, find the item there and get it shipped to them free of charge; some stores provide computer terminals for their customers to make such online purchases while in the store, Beemer said.
The third reason people shop online, Beemer said, is time.
Shoppers turn to online shopping because they feel they can save time, and online retailers have done a much-improved job of working with shipping companies to get items delivered by Christmas, Beemer said. Many people purchase online and have the item shipped directly to the gift recipient, he said, further helping to ensure on time delivery.
Because Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, shoppers in some cases can purchase through Friday and get delivery by Monday, Christmas Eve.
While the calendar between Thanksgiving and Christmas has been longer this year than usual, shoppers in other cases are going to find it too hard to get things shipped in the waning days to Christmas, said Rook of the toy store. UPS and FedEx, for instance, ended guaranteed ground shipping last Monday, she noted, sensing a local opportunity.
I think a lot of people are going to panic (this) week, and realize that (it suddenly is) Christmas, then hopefully run out to the stores, she said.