Birmingham-area shoppers boost spending for holiday season

Although sales tax revenue figures won’t be available for weeks, centers around the area handled heavy traffic early in the season and again at the last minute.

At The Summit shopping center in Birmingham, a number of retailers reported increased sales over last year, said Elisa Nelson, marketing manager for the shopping center’s developer and manager, Bayer Properties.

Meanwhile, post-holiday shopping kicked off strong, too.

On Monday, Nelson said, “the shopping center was packed — probably one of the biggest traffic days of the season.”

At Colonial Brookwood Village, results will likely be in line with national year-over-year sales increase projections of 3 to 4 percent, said Jim Spahn, spokesman for mall owner Colonial Properties Trust.

“When you look at the season, it finished like it started,” he said. “In the final few days before Christmas, we saw a surge in traffic in the stores and gift cards were extremely popular.”

Heavy traffic also was reported at Hoover’s shopping venues, including the Riverchase Galleria.

Across the country, retailers experienced a record-breaking Black Friday, the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza that is the traditional kickoff to the holiday season. The crowds at Birmingham area malls were larger than recent years on that day as well.

But the post-Black Friday lull was deeper than usual this year. The two weeks after Thanksgiving weekend showed the biggest percentage sales decline since 2000.

Then, during the final two weeks before Christmas, sales surged again, by the highest rate since 2005, said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers.

“The holiday season was good but uneven,” Niemira said. “The downs and ups were much more accentuated. It just shows how cautious the consumer is. Consumers are bargain hunters more today than ever before.”

Although they generate a lot of traffic, big focused discount days such as Black Friday aren’t necessarily an additive for the holiday shopping season, because they pull sales from other days, said Brad Wilson, founder of the coupon website

“It’s essentially at the expense of the rest of the season,” he said.

For Dec. 1-24, spending rose 4.7 percent compared with the same period last year, according to research firm ShopperTrak. In November, it rose 4.1 percent. A 4 percent increase is considered a successful season. A combined figure for the whole season won’t be available until after Dec. 31.

As proof that consumers are timing their spending to when they know they’ll get the best bargains, Black Friday was the biggest sales day, as expected, generating sales of $11.4 billion, up 6.6 percent from a year ago, according to ShopperTrak.

But based on preliminary data, Christmas Eve and Dec. 26 were the second- and third-heaviest spending days of the season, according to ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin.

He had originally expected Saturday, Dec. 17, to be the second-largest. Christmas Eve wasn’t even forecast to be among the top 10 days.

“Shoppers are willing to spend when they know the biggest discounts are available,” Martin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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