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The Retail Before Christmas – Holidays Come Even Earlier This Year

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By Nicole Paitsel

RISMEDIA, Oct. 30, 2008-(MCT)-On a sunny, 80-degree day last week-more than 15 days before Halloween-Wal-Mart employees in Newport News worked to put the finishing touches on their “Christmas Shop.”

And even though holiday music wasn’t playing yet, the smell of cinnamon hovered over customers as they walked past bright orange Jack-O-Lanterns to get to the Christmas trees.

It’s all an attempt by Wal-Mart, and other retailers, to jump-start the gift-giving season and combat steadily falling retail sales.

And there may be something to this early-bird theory. In an unscientific poll by the Daily Press, a little more than half of the shoppers asked said they did plan to cut back on the spending this season. And a more thorough survey recently conducted by Wal-Mart reported similar results.

“Yes, I plan to cut way back,” Williamsburg, Va., resident Mary Gall said.
“We’re in a depression, and I’m depressed,” Alexis Williams of Yorktown, Va., added.

But local shoppers were loud and clear when they said they don’t like the idea of Christmas before Halloween. About three quarters of the 50 local customers polled said they were not going to start shopping any earlier this year than usual, and that seeing holiday decorations on store shelves doesn’t sway their buying habits.

“Having it out doesn’t influence me at all,” Demetrius Gyant of Newport News said.

“But it’s got to be effective, because they’re putting things out earlier every year, and they wouldn’t do that if it wasn’t effective,” said Michael Lawson. Business is still good for him, he said, and he doesn’t plan to cut back on spending at all.

Even international visitors, like Ann Antonio and Nicola Noon of England, plan to save money over the holidays, but they’re doing it by taking advantage of the U.S. dollar. We caught the ladies at Patrick Henry Mall in Newport News, and they said they planned to get most of their Christmas shopping done before they went home, because the English pound stretches much further here.

“We’re doing some shopping now, but in England they put the Christmas decorations out as early as September, and I wish they’d just leave it for the season,” Antonio said.

But Santa’s sleigh won’t be completely empty this Christmas. In both our local poll and the more extensive Wal-Mart survey, shoppers named electronics as their No. 1 gift item. And many locals cited video games as a top item on their lists.

For young kids, the new Elmo Live dolls are flying off shelves, according to Ralph Ransom, co-manager at the Newport News Wal-Mart. Customers lined up at midnight the night of the doll’s release, and the store only has a few of the nearly-$60 dolls left in stock.

But toy sales, in general, are slow, says Ransom. Some people, like Deloris Parker of Newport News, aren’t planning to buy toys at all for their children or grandchildren.

“If I buy any toy, it’s going to be a learning toy,” Parker said. “But I’m planning to put money away for them.”

Here are some money-saving tips from local shoppers:

- Shopping early can amount to savings. Getting organized early can help ease the budget strain. It also helps you shop around for the best price, even if you don’t purchase the items until closer to the holiday.
- Coupons and comparison ads. Many of the shoppers we talked to said they used coupons and sale ads as their primary money-saving method.
- Shop online. This was another popular method to find the best deal. Finding the lowest price before you head out also saves gas money. Michael Palmer of Newport News said he uses ebay.com and slickdeals.com for many of his purchases.
- Stick to a list. If you decide to shop early, make sure you to stick to a list. Disorganization can lead to multiple gifts for one person.
- Make it yourself. Maxine Gropper of Williamsburg says she always tries to make special gifts for her family. She loves to give from the heart, and it also saves money.
- Wait for the after-Christmas sales. If you can, buy wrapping paper, bows, Christmas cards and gift bags at the after-Christmas sales for the next year. You can save as much as 75%.

© 2008, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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