Maryland merchants enjoy fairly manic weekend -- Gazette.Net


Cyber Monday gave a lift to many retailers in Maryland, but not so much for Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts in downtown Frederick.

The family-owned specialty toy store, which features battery-free toys, games, arts and craft products, and science kits, doesn’t sell online, said co-owner Tom England, who opened the store with his wife, Marlene, in 2000. But business was still brisk on Monday, he said.

“We want children to come in and play, and we want their parents to see how engaging non-battery operated toys are,” England said. “Kids love to use their imagination.”

Sales at Dancing Bear were up 22 percent on Small Business Saturday and 15 percent on Black Friday from a year ago, he said. So far this year, sales have increased 17 percent, England said.

That growth has occurred in each of the store’s 13 years, even during the Great Recession, he said.

“Parents always take care of their kids, even when times aren’t so good,” England said.

The weekend was busy for many retailers, especially online, according to surveys released by the National Retail Federation. A record 247 million shoppers visited stores and checked websites over the weekend, up from 226 million a year ago, the trade group said. Some 129 million people were expected to shop online for Cyber Monday, up from 123 million a year ago, according to a survey from the group.

The average holiday shopper spent $423 this past weekend, up from $398 a year ago.

The holiday shopping season is the most lucrative time of the year for retailers, who typically rack up about 20 percent of their annual sales during the last two months of the year. Nationally, bricks-and-mortar retailers are expected to haul in $490 billion during this year’s holiday season, up 4.1 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

An additional $96 billion, about 12 percent more than last year, is expected to be spent online. Maryland retailers expect to see a sales bump of 2.5 percent to 3 percent over last year, slightly more than the 2 percent to 2.5 percent increase last year, according to the Maryland Retailers Association.

Doorbusters go fast

Many stores opened late Thursday, pushing up the conventional Black Friday midnight openings this year. At Kmart in the Kentlands in Gaithersburg, more than 100 people waited in line before the store opened for Black Friday at 8 p.m. Thursday.

But many who hoped to score a 24-inch high-definition television for $88 or a 50-inch set for $288 were disappointed, as those deals were snatched up by the first few shoppers in line.

“As advertised, our doorbusters were offered at limited quantities,” Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler, a spokeswoman for Sears Holdings Management Corp., the Hoffman Estates, Ill., parent of Kmart, said Monday. “We use a ticket voucher system for certain electronics doorbusters specials so customers know in advance if they will have an opportunity to purchase that item.”

Stores at Westfield Montgomery mall in Bethesda and the Washingtonian in Gaithersburg were still crowded Friday afternoon, as buyers tried to find deals.

But while online sales were up from last year on Black Friday, sales in conventional stores were down almost 2 percent for the day to $11.2 billion, according to ShopperTrak, a Chicago retail technology company that anonymously counts people and analyzes data for retailers. That’s despite foot traffic in the stores rising by 3.5 percent on Friday.

The Thursday openings likely factored into the sales drop on Friday, Bill Martin, ShopperTrak founder, said in a statement.

“More retailers than last year began their doorbuster deals on Thursday,” Martin said. “So while foot traffic did increase on Friday, those Thursday deals attracted some of the spending that’s usually meant for Friday.”

Others noted that some shoppers examined products in stores, then went home or used their mobile phones to buy online and save paying sales taxes.

A report by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) estimated that e-commerce costs the state some $200 million a year. That situation is going to have to be addressed by legislators, said Patrick Donoho, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.

“It’s getting harder for the traditional retailers to compete with the online ones,” Donoho said. “All they are asking for is a level playing field.”