Supermarkets are fairly optimistic about good shelf turns for general merchandise and health and beauty aids despite five fewer shopping days in this season's holiday period.
Last year Thanksgiving was celebrated Nov. 23 and this year it will be Nov. 28. The Christmas shopping season traditionally starts the Friday after Thanksgiving.
The shorter holiday buying time this year isn't all bad news, according to nonfood executives SN polled. For one thing, they point out consumers may not realize there are fewer shopping days before Christmas this year.
According to Brad Boon, general merchandise category manager for Roundy's in Mazomanie, Wis., despite the loss of several shopping days strong shelf turns and impulse sales of gift wraps, packing tape and greeting cards should still take place.
"Increased consumer spending confidence and the convenience of supermarkets should boost nonfood volume since we have that customer more than anyone else. I'm sure losing a week is on everybody's mind but that [increased confidence] should help pick things up," Boon said.
Herb Finke, a buyer at Finke Co., Dayton, Ohio, said aggressive retailers are more likely to boost holiday nonfood sales even though there are five fewer shopping days this year.
"Supermarkets can gain sales by doing a little more during the holiday shopping period," Finke said.
B&R Stores, Lincoln. Neb., is experiencing higher consumer spending for items such as cough and cold preparations, decorating products and gift wraps, said Barb Zugmier, the chain's director of nonfood.
"From all indications our nonfood sales are running ahead of last year at this time," she said.
Holiday sales are assisted by regular monthly greeting card department promotions. "These let shoppers know we're running them everyday at half price, and let shoppers know that general merchandise is part of the store as well," Zugmier said.
The chain merchandises its holiday greeting cards, gift wraps, partyware, candles, bows and napkins at "outposted" areas, building on the customer following created by the consistent half-price activity during the year, said the retailer.
Although consumers face a shorter holiday shopping spree this year, Wright's Foodliner, Eugene, Ore., forecasts stronger nonfood sales than a year ago, said Scott Elwell, director of nonfood.
"I don't think the shorter buying period makes that much difference. Our higher card sales, for example, have come from consistent promotions that generate awareness for our card department," said Elwell.
Indeed, by October Wright's greeting card sales were up 17% from a year ago, and sales are expected to hold through December. "With these gains we're still going to have an increase over last year, even with fewer shopping days," added the retailer.
"Card promotions range from 'buy four cards and get a free 2- liter of Pepsi or Coke,' to 'buy four cards and get one free,' and similar offers that all attract customers," Elwell said.
Five fewer shopping days can result in lost sales, noted Judy Lane, nonfood buyer at Camellia Food Stores, Norfolk, Va. But Camellia began discounting its greeting cards and partyware 40% and promoting the category in newspaper ads at Halloween to stimulate movement in the department, explained Lane.
Lane is optimistic that nonfood sales will be helped by what some observers have said is an increase in consumer spending that will carry right on through the holiday shopping weeks.