Tri-City retailers are optimistic about the upcoming holiday shopping season.
“Our market usually outperforms the national trend due to our strong local economy,” said Barbara Johnson, general manager of Columbia Center mall in Kennewick. “It’s always kind of like looking into a crystal ball. I’m expecting consumer spending locally to be up 4.5 percent over last year, if not better.”
Johnson bases that on the National Retail Federation’s prediction of a 4.1 percent increase in consumer spending for the 2018 holiday shopping season compared to last year.
The 33rd annual holiday retail survey, conducted by independent research company, Deloitte, pushes that number even higher, with an expected increase of up to 5.6 percent more spending compared to last year.
Columbia Center will welcome back its veteran seasonal retailers like Hickory Farms, See’s Candies, Calendar Club and Go Games.
The consistent popularity of See’s Candies has prompted the vendor to sell its chocolates and candies from a storefront this year, instead of a cart.
A new seasonal retailer in the Kennewick mall will be Prosser-based Chukar Cherries, which sells foods and gifts using locally-grown cherries and berries. Johnson said the mall has been hoping to bring Chukar Cherries in for the holidays for the past couple years.
The retail industry puts thousands of people to work in the Mid-Columbia. As of the end of the third quarter, total employment for the retail industry across Benton and Franklin counties was just under 14,000. This is up over the past year by 5.3 percent.
Across the state, nearly 400,000 people work in retail, and an additional 10,900 workers are expected to be hired statewide to fulfill the holiday shopping demand. This is a 21 percent increase over last year’s holiday hiring in Washington.
This will include an estimated 500 retail workers hired across Benton and Franklin counties between October and December. Last year’s actual hiring for the same time period was 499 retail workers.
The National Retail Federation said 42 million American jobs are supported by the retail industry, which directly employs 29 million people across the nation. The industry group breaks down the impact by congressional district, reporting that 70,914 jobs are directly supported by retail in the 4th Congressional District, including an impact of $4.3 million in gross domestic product. There are nearly 6,000 retailers in the district covering Benton and Franklin counties, along with Adams, Douglas, Grant, Okanogan and Yakima.
“Fueled by strong consumer confidence, our industry has been growing steadily,” said Renée Sunde, president and CEO of the Washington Retail Association. “Retailers are ready to hire a variety of job seekers, from career-oriented applicants to those looking to earn a few extra dollars for the holidays.”
The bulk of hiring will come from general merchandise stores, which include retailers like Target and Walmart.
A special web page launched by WorkSource in partnership with the Washington Retail Association can be found at http://bit.ly/WorkSourceWARetail.
WorkSource is a statewide partnership of state, local and nonprofits that provides employment and training services to job seekers and employers.
The tax distribution for retail shopping was more than $42 million across the Tri-Cities in 2017. Despite growth in online sales, Johnson said consumers still need physical retail stores, which helps contribute to the Tri-Cities’ growth in retail sales. There is also limited competition for Columbia Center, making it a regional shopping hub for shoppers from both southeast Washington and northeast Oregon.
Due to the increased number of customers during the holiday shopping season, additional parking will be made available. Demolition of the former Regal movie theater is set to begin before Thanksgiving and should wrap up quickly as the site is being prepared as a future location for the Mid-Columbia’s first Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Johnson said the closure of Toys R Us also may drive more shoppers to the mall in search of unique toys and games. Johnson says Toys R Us still controls the lease on its building at 821 N. Columbia Center Blvd. and will determine the future of the former Kennewick toy store.
Most shoppers aren’t expected to wait until Black Friday to begin their holiday shopping. Those who average the highest spending also start their shopping before Thanksgiving, according to the Deloitte 2018 Holiday Survey. This includes 60 percent of those surveyed, with an average holiday expense of $1,685. Those who wait until after Thanksgiving to begin holiday shopping will average $1,315 in spending.
Still, most shoppers will do about half of their shopping in the 30-day window between late November and early December, according to the Deloitte survey. Reliance on Black Friday or Cyber Monday is expected to be down slightly from 2017.
Deloitte determined the average holiday spending for consumers is likely to increase from $1,226 in 2017 to $1,536 in 2018, with more than three-quarters of consumers planning to spend at least the same, if not more, than they did last year. The researchers also predict online shopping could be up 18 percent to 22 percent over last year’s spending. Gift cards, clothing and toys top the list as the items most likely to be bought during the holiday shopping season.
Locally-owned small businesses also hope shoppers support their shops on Small Business Saturday on Nov. 24. The annual event, which is supported by the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, aims to support the diverse range of local businesses that create jobs, boost the economy and enhance neighborhoods around the country.
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