I finally went to the mall yesterday.
I guess that makes me part of 2 trends. I am one of those last-minute shoppers that finally went out and got done yesterday while Tina bought EVERYTHING on-line this year and I don't even think she's waiting for any more shipments at this point. If you get used to cyber-shopping, it's easy to see why the trend is growing but on-line retail is still nothing more than a speck (5%) on overall retail sales and that's AFTER being up more than 20% this year.
So I went to the trenches on Saturday, where the real people shop (well, the real, upper-middle class people, anyway) at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey – one of America's larger and busier malls made even more so on a Saturday because Bergen County has blue laws and retail is closed on Sundays so yesterday was do or die in Paramus with just 3 more shopping days until Christmas.
I took the kids at about 10 am and the first sign of trouble was that we got a pretty good parking spot. On a normal Saturday at the Garden State Plaza, you can't get a good spot anyway and on a normal Christmas you can expect a half-mile hike from your car to the mall. When I got inside, it was even stranger, there were so few children in the mall that the carousel was empty so my kids jumped right on that as we spend our first dollar of the day. Riding around the carousel I saw something that didn't cost anything – there was a MSFT XBox demo station set up with very cool driving set-ups with seats and wheels and big screens and full band set-ups for playing Guitar Hero on a little stage and about 6 other game demo areas – right in the middle of that part of the mall AND IT WAS EMPTY.
If nothing else had worried me about Christmas before, that would have been it because who doesn't want to play free video games on big-screen high-def TVs with all the coolest attachments (they had sports-car seats and a wheel/pedals combo that they said cost $100 (not the seat) and was sold out at Game Stop)? Something was very wrong. Leggo land was also empty so maybe people just didn't want to bring kids to the mall this weekend but that begs the question why? Is it because they don't want to have to say no over and over again this year?
I was generally struck by the lack of lines everywhere. The busiest stores I visited were Old Navy (GPS) and Victoria's Secret (LTD) but neither one annoyed me (last year Tina lost out as I quit the line at Victoria's Secret after a half hour – this one was 15 mins tops). MCD in the mall also had a huge line so the kids and I had lunch at Fudrucker's down the road and they were scary empty. I think the scariest emptiness I saw was Nordstroms (JWN), which was 3 floors of a ghost town and so many "sale" racks that they looked like Sears. Macy's (M) was so empty we had an army of personal shoppers in each department as sales people had nothing else to do and I bought 3 things at 3 registers and only at one of them was there a person ahead of me.
Jewelry stores were very sad places to visit and even the Hallmark store had smaller than usual lines. We bought something from one of those photo-etching people in a kiosk and the guy gave us a 20% discount before we had a chance to ask and then offered us another for 50% off if we were willing to take 2. That's probably not a good sign either!
So that is my retail adventure for the weekend – please tell us yours as it's a great way to gian insight as to what's hot and what's not around the country. Try to include the symbols for the companies you discuss and be sure to give us a good idea, geographically of where you are shopping. Last year we got a great picture of what was going on in the country and it kept us from falling for the media hype about holiday shopping last year. Only by comparing many people's experiences can we begin to get a good picture of the retail situation in this country, Thanks!