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Holiday shopping: Ohio retailers ‘cautiously optimistic’

Ohio’s retailers are on track to see a modest sales increase as the holiday shopping season enters its final weekend, despite national declines in retail shopper traffic, according to a state trade association.

Many retailers “will pull out all the stops” to make their year-end sales projections, said Gordon Gough, executive vice president of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.

“Many stores are going to be open 24 hours straight, back-to-back for a few days just to make sure they give consumers every opportunity to make their last-minute purchases this weekend,” Gough said.

Several of the final days leading up to Christmas — including today, known as “Super Saturday” — are expected to be among the busiest shopping days of the holiday season, according to retail analytics firm ShopperTrak.

However, a flood watch is in effect for southwest Ohio through Sunday morning because of expected heavy rains and melting snow, which could dampen retailers’ hopes for the weekend.

Traditionally, the Saturday before Christmas is the biggest spending day of the year after “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, according to ShopperTrak. Christmas Eve also ranks among the four most popular shopping days of the holiday season.

“Only one weekend remains before Christmas for shoppers to check everything off their holiday lists,” said Bill Martin, ShopperTrak’s founder, in a statement. “Shoppers will plan and focus their store visits on getting items they want at the best values.”

Last month, the University of Cincinnati Economics Center projected Ohio’s total retail spending for November and December will be $14.9 billion, an increase of $503.5 million from 2012.

“We are still projecting a 3.5 percent increase statewide,” Gough said. “Our members are cautiously optimistic.”

The National Retail Federation said the holiday season can account for as much as 20 to 40 percent of some retailers’ annual sales. The federation expects U.S. sales in November and December to increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion.

In-store retail sales for the week of Dec. 9-15 were down nearly 1 percent from the same period last year, according to ShopperTrak. Retail in-store shopper traffic also fell last week by nearly 20 percent compared to the same period in 2012.

ShopperTrak said snowstorms last weekend in the Midwest and Northeast kept people from shopping.

“We expect these individuals will add to the high levels of in-store shopper activity we usually see the weekend before Christmas,” Martin said.

As of Dec. 17, consumers had completed about two-thirds of their holiday shopping, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Officials said a “big boost” in sales is expected as shoppers finish up their gift buying.

“This will be a big weekend,” Gough said. “There are more discounts and stores are staying open longer.”

Cincinnati-based Macy’s Inc. will open its Ohio stores each day from 7 a.m-2 a.m. through Monday, and from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

The extended hours are intended to give holiday shoppers plenty of time to complete their purchases, said Andrea Schwartz, a Macy’s spokeswoman.

“We find there are lots of last-minute holiday shoppers out there and this really meets their needs,” she said.

Kohl’s stores for the first time ever will be open around the clock through 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

However, Christmas Day doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the holiday shopping season.

A survey released this week by digital coupon company RetailMeNot found that nearly 80 percent of consumers plan to shop end-of-year sales after the holidays are over.

“The days following Christmas are some of the busiest for retailers as shoppers take to the stores to use their gift cards and, in many cases, make exchanges or returns,” said Trae Bodge, senior editor of The Real Deal by RetailMeNot, in a statement.

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