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Christmas season brings changes in clientele

It’s not surprising that the crowds at Parkland Mall grow as Christmas approaches. What catches the eye of mall manager Dan Hachey is the composition of those throngs.

“It’s one of the few times in shopping centres that the gender changes,” he pointed out.

“Males never outnumber females in the shopping centre, but the ratio is higher for males in that last week prior to Christmas.

The consumer demographic also shifts at downtown stores as the shopping clock ticks down.

Country Cupboard owner Cathy Edwards sees the transformation at her shop, as does Leslie Jodoin, manager of Ten Thousand Villages.

“The closer we get, the more men there are,” said Jodoin, who thinks stores like hers have a competitive advantage over shopping malls and power centres when it comes to attracting male customers.

“We’ll give them more help, and we’ll even gift wrap for them.”

Artistry in Gold is also a downtown shopping mecca for men, said owner Terry Balgobin.

“We’re a big destination for guys. That’s our niche.”

This year, there appears to be plenty of disposable income to go around.

Statistics Canada reported on Thursday that Alberta’s retail sales in October were up 0.9 per cent from September, to $5.93 billion. It was the fifth increase in six months.

John Rooke, general manager of Bower Place Shopping Centre, thinks the upward trend has continued, with the final weekend before Christmas and the Boxing Day rush sure to inflate the sales figures further.

“I think we’re going to see some pretty good numbers once they come in for December.”

Rooke said sales volumes at Bower mall have been up all year.

He attributes this to the strength of the energy sector, which drives much of Central Alberta’s economy.

Hachey has also seen strong sales at Parkland Mall over an extended period.

“For the last 18 months to two years it’s been in a steady climb,” he said.

“We’re still not at the 2007 levels, which was the zenith of retail times, but definitely it’s on a positive trend.”

Christmas 2012 should put the icing on the revenue cake, he added.

“I know the retailers are happy.”

Edwards, Jodoin and Balgobin agree that this year’s Christmas shopping season started slow at their stores, but then came on strong.

“Usually we’re busier by the start of September, but this year we weren’t,” said Edwards.

“It just didn’t seem like it was going anywhere until these last few weeks,” added Jodoin, speculating that Ten Thousand Villages’ relocation from Southpointe Common to its current premises at 4925 48th St. might have been a factor.

“We had a lot of people who are just re-finding us since our move.”

Balgobin thinks the fact that Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year has prompted some people to postpone their shopping until the last weekend, or beyond.

“Most of our regulars haven’t been in, but they’ve all said that they are coming in,” he said.

To accommodate the anticipated weekend rush, Artistry in Gold and some other downtown shops will be open on Sunday.

Edwards thinks most of her customers have now bought their big gifts.

“It’s more stocking stuffers they want now.”

But Jodoin said her store remains busy.

“It’s not slowing down for us at all right now. I don’t expect it to be slow until Christmas Eve when we close the doors.”

For many tired retailers, the reprieve will be short-lived. Consumers are expected back en masse on Boxing Day.

Parkland Mall and Bower Place Shopping Centre will both open early on Dec. 26, as will many other shops in the city. They did the same thing on Nov. 23 — the day after the American Thanksgiving, or Black Friday.

Rooke said some of his tenants told him Black Friday was their busiest day of the year. That’s likely to increase participation in the U.S. sales event next year, he suggested.

“I think the buy-in is getting bigger.”

Hachey agreed, noting that consumers also seem to like the idea of a late November sale.

“I think it’s going to get stronger and stronger as each year passes,” he said, speculating that Black Friday could eventually affect Boxing Day sales in Canada.

“I don’t think it will have an impact on Boxing Day this year, but five years down the line will Boxing Day not be as big as it used to be? I don’t know.”



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