Holiday is over, but not the shopping


December 26, 2013

Christmas day was quiet for most stores, and Polaris Fashion Place was no different.

But the day of rest for retailers was bookended by a shopping frenzy: last minute gift seekers on Tuesday and first to grab post-Christmas sale items today.

Polaris manager Michael Minn said Polaris, a major retail center that draws customers from around Central Ohio and sits on the southern edge of Delaware County, has seen a large amount of foot traffic this holiday shopping season – he estimated up 3 to 4 percent over last year – starting off with Black Friday. He said he expect sales have been very strong this year.

“Retailers here have been very pleased,” said Polaris manager Michael Minns. “Across the board, everything here is solid.”

His anecdotal description of a busy mall was in line with the holiday forecast released by the University of Cincinnati Economics Center through Focus on Ohio’s Future, the public research arm of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.

The Economics Center projected a 3.5 percent increase in Ohio retail spending for November and December over last year – just under the national projection of a 3.9 percent increase. In the Columbus Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Delaware County and Polaris and represents the largest share of retail spending in Ohio, the Economics center projected an increase in holiday spending of 4.4 percent.

“Of course, you never know until the final bill comes through,” Minns said.

On Christmas Eve, shoppers trickled in throughout the day for the last-minute gifts. Many of those shoppers were male, and that they “walk with a purpose,” he said. “Stereotypical, but it is the truth.”

Out on the mall, Jeff Keifer of Westerville wrapped up Christmas shopping for his wife with his two sons, Kyle, 16, and Matt, 14, in tow. Matt carried a packed bag from Bed Bath and Beyond.

“I really don’t like to wait until Christmas Eve,” Keifer said. It was his first time doing Christmas shopping in the 11th hour of the season, but he admitted he does hold out as long as possible each year.

“I do a lot of research online (for purchases),” he said. “I’m pretty bad with buyers regret. So that’s why I wait until the last minute.”

He said he and his sons really did fit the stereotype: when they stopped for breakfast before hitting the mall, the hostess “came up and said, ‘Let me guess, breakfast before shopping for mom?’”

With hints from his wife to his youngest son, Keifer was able to pick up the fitness bracelet she wanted and “get in and get out.”

Brothers Nick Wahoff of Cincinnati, Erik Wahoff of West Point, N.Y., and Chris Wahoff of Washington D.C. make last-minute shopping at Polaris a tradition when they return to the area to visit their parents for Christmas.

“It’s a good time,” Nick Wahoff said. “I’ve been here when you can’t even move around people.”

The brothers said they couldn’t disclose their purchases – or at least not the ones they picked up for each other – but said they were able to get their mother fuzzy socks and homemade cosmetics and a martini shaker for their father.

The mall closed early on Christmas Eve at 6 p.m., but reopened this morning at 7 a.m. for shoppers ready to grab post-Christmas sales and those looking to return or exchange unwanted Christmas gifts.

And some came with another purpose.

“There’s a huge market in gift cards,” Minns said. “And that will start after Christmas.”

He said the weekend between Christmas and New Years will be very busy, but the gift card sales will bring shoppers into stores well into January. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, gift cards topped the list of desired gifts for the seventh year in a row with 59 percent of respondents to the organizations 2013 holiday survey agreeing.

Shoppers also spent more on gift cards in the 2013 season: the average gift card sale increased $1.41 to $45.16 from 2012, according to the NRF, and men planned to spend more about $20 more than women on gift cards this season, averaging about $171.35.

The NRF projected department stores and restaurants as the top gift card sellers (40.3 percent and 34.2 percent, respectively), while only 12.7 percent of gift cards being directed to online merchants.