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Florida Retailers Stick to Rosy Christmas Projections

Florida consumers are feeling more confident, stores are staying open longer and manufacturers are pushing less expensive items, a  combination that should bode well for recession weary retailers this holiday season, the Florida Retail Federation said Tuesday.
Despite some recent reports showing shoppers will remain tight fisted, FRF president Rick McAllister said the group’s own research shows a more optimistic picture. While trepidation remains on the nation’s economic health, individual consumers are breathing a little easier.
“As it comes to their own situation, they feel more confident,” McAllister told reporters during a conference call Tuesday. “The worst has passed and they did not lose their job. All the consumer confidence numbers we’re seeing are very good.”
Such confidence will translate into sales, McAllister said. The federation is anticipating sales increasing 3 percent to 4 percent over last year, which was the worst season for sales in 40 years.
Member stores have been reporting stronger sales for a few months now and many are meeting or exceeding their sales plans. Some are even bolstering inventory after running much leaner following last year’s disappointing year.
McAllister’s relatively rosy assessment, however, contrasts with others that show consumers may be holding back a little more. A Mason Dixon Research and Polling survey released earlier in the week indicted that nearly half of respondents expect spending less this year than last. Only 2 percent indicated that they would spend more.
“What we’re basing our numbers on is what we’re hearing from our members,” McAllister said. “They’re reporting higher sales over the past two months. There is no reason to believe that will change.”
Nationally, retailers on Tuesday said they expect the throng of Black Friday shoppers to increase more than 16% this year. That, the National Retail Federation says, translates into 57 million people saying they will head to stores on the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional busiest shopping day of the year in the United States.

Last month, however, the national retailers group predicted a 1 percent decline overall in holiday season sales.
Still, 77 million shoppers told the national retail group's survey takers that they would decide after exploring the weekend deals, a sign that customers will be anticipating aggressive marketing and price cutting.

“May the retailers with the best promotions win,” said Pamela Goodfellow, senior analyst at BIGresearch, which conducted the NRF poll. “While consumers are still expected to remain cautious with their holiday spending, the anticipation of Black Friday deals seems to be coaxing shoppers out of hibernation, many arriving to stores early and with coupons in hand.”

Responding to an anticipated crush of shoppers and trying to avoid crushing any shoppers, national chains are expected to keep their doors open longer, with some, including Toys R Us, opening doors at 12:01 a.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Others are opening a little later but still in the pre-dawn hours and scheduling sales throughout the day in an attempt to avoid the type of hyper-shopper pandemonium that led to the death last year of a Wal-Mart employee trampled to death by a sale-seeking mob.

Two in three shoppers planning to join the fray Friday plan to hit a big box store. In addition, four in 10 will shop in electronics stores, 36.3 percent will head to a clothing store. More than one in four will shop on line, the retailers' surveys found.

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