Shoppers aren’t likely to spend enough money this holiday season to raise the economy from the dead.Halloween sales - an early indicator of holiday shopping trends - so far have been about even with last year, according to Midlands retailers.
And forecasts show holiday spending will increase only slightly, revealing shaky consumer confidence as the nation struggles to recover from the Great Recession.
Customers at three Halloween Express stores in Columbia are spending an average of $40 per purchase this year, about the same as last year, manager Jamie Frasier said. But they have waited longer to buy in hopes of getting a deal.
"Sales were down in the beginning, but now they are catching up" as Halloween approaches Sunday, Frasier said. "They’re waiting until the last minute to see if sales hit."
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After skimping on Halloween last year, revelers were expected to spend about the same amount this year that they did in 2008, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation. The average individual purchase was expected to rise about $10 from last year to $66.28, results showed.
The results of a holiday spending survey, however, are scarier. Shoppers are expecting to spend an average of about $689 on larger holiday purchases - only about $7 more than last year, according to the survey.
"I think it’s probably going to be pretty flat," said Ava Allen, who owns Be Beep toy shop on Forest Drive. "I hope I’m pleasantly surprised."
More consumers also are pre-paying for Christmas rather than racking up large credit card bills at the end of the year.Allen said she has seen customers shopping earlier and more often for Christmas this year, but spending smaller amounts on each trip. The average Christmas purchase so far this year has been about $40, she said.
"They are definitely spreading it out. During the summer, we wrapped more Christmas than ever in 25 years," Allen said. "People are being pretty smart about their money now."
One reason could be a change in credit card regulations in the past few months, USC retailing professor Richard Clodfelter said. Bills now tell consumers exactly how much time it would take to pay off their bills if they pay the minimum each month.
"When you see that in black and white, it wakes you up a little bit," Clodfelter said. Before, "it was in the back of people’s minds. It wasn’t there really facing them."
Clodfelter said retail sales won’t see a big bump as long as unemployment remains high. South Carolina’s unemployment rate fell to 11 percent last month, but it still ranks sixth highest in the nation.
Clodfelter expects a slow, steady rebound.
"The forecasts I’ve seen predict upward movement," he said. "We’ve been gradually coming out of it."
Reach Rupon at (803) 771-8308.