Originally created 11/23/04

Heat may chill holiday sales



ATLANTA - There will be plenty of promotions and incentives from retailers to buy clothes, electronics and cars this holiday season, but weather could be a key factor in driving holiday sales over Thanksgiving, an economist says.

The Atlanta region is expected to see 7 percent growth in retail sales during the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, said Wachovia Corp. economist Mark Vitner.

A key element will be the weather. The lower the temperature, the more likely shoppers are to buy winter clothes, something many retailers will be pushing this holiday season, Mr. Vitner said.

"If we don't get cold weather, then retailers tend to have to discount fairly aggressively," he said.

Many stores will be open early and for extended hours around Thanksgiving. Rich's-Macy's will open stores at 6 a.m. Friday, the day after the holiday. Many of its stores are offering big discounts - from 30 percent to 40 percent off on some children's apparel.

"The day after Thanksgiving is a traditional shopping day for families; it is really the thrill of the hunt," said Rich's-Macy's spokeswoman Ellen Fruchtman.

Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores Inc., which includes the Rich's, Macy's and Bloomingdale's chains, expects same-store sales to increase 1.5 percent to 3 percent in the fourth quarter, which covers the Thanksgiving-Christmas period, Ms. Fruchtman said.

As she shopped for clothes for her grandchildren Monday at a Rich's-Macy's store in Atlanta, Cindy Sorrells of Marietta said she was looking for all the bargains she could get her hands on. The store was offering an additional 15 percent off many items that were already marked down 30 percent.

"That's 45 percent - so that's pretty darn good," she said.

Another shopper, Cadis Stuart-Hodges of Atlanta, was looking for deals on party dresses for her 4-month-old daughter Tess.

"I do a lot of online shopping, but today it was raining so I decided to take a walk and come here," she said. "There's so much that they're taking off (the prices), you might as well."

The Home Depot Inc., an Atlanta-based chain, also will be opening stores at 6 a.m. Friday. During the weekend, it will be offering special values on a wide range of home improvement items in its stores and through its Web site. It will be featuring several holiday gift items, including power tools, miniature beverage refrigerators and battery-powered toy tractors for children.

"We're finding that 2004 is shaping up as a very home-oriented holiday with gifts that are both practical and fun," merchandising chief John Costello said.

There are also expected to be good deals on automobiles during the holidays. U.S. sales of new vehicles are expected to rise in November from last month as automakers try to meet year-end sales targets.

A survey released Monday by the Consumer Federation of America and the Credit Union National Association found that more consumers plan to increase spending during this year's holiday season than did last year. The survey said concerns about paying off debt have lessened and economic optimism has grown.

Other hot items will be electronics and toys, Mr. Vitner said.

"After 9-11, I think retailers were worried that shoppers weren't going to show up the day after Thanksgiving," he said. "They don't have that worry anymore. Retail sales have been relatively strong."