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Monday, March 8, 2021

It’s a wierd-erful retail life: Shoppers have new options in bricks, clicks and mortar

Waterside, WestBend, The Shops at Clearfork, Left Bank, Tanger Outlets and myriad other bright, shiny, jingling, jangling fresh options await Fort Worth shoppers this holiday season as new retail destinations take shape.

Locally, shoppers are also expected to spend 3 to 4 percent more than in the previous year with the average holiday budget for Fort Worth consumers totaling $657, according to the personal finance website WalletHub, which analyzed the spending amounts for consumers in 570 cities. Shoppers in Allen in Collin County are expected to budget the most in North Texas at $2,163, ranking it ninth among the 570 cities surveyed.

But Fort Worth shoppers could be enticed to spend more given the array of new stores and shopping centers open this year. At the same time, brick-and-mortar retailers are finding innovative way to challenge Amazon and other online-only shopping options.

The challenge for retailers is to help consumers meet their expectations in a broadening world of shopping options that has prompted fierce competition between brick-and-mortar stores and mega online shopping sites like Amazon, according to retail experts.

Retailers of all types should have more to cheer about this year if, as predicted, shoppers spend 3 to 4 percent more this holiday season than last year. Nationally, the average shopper plans to spend $967.13 this year, up from $935.58 last year, according to an annual survey for the National Retail Federation.

“With employment and incomes increasing, consumers are more confident this year and that is reflected in their buying plans for the holidays,” the federation’s president and CEO, Matthew Shay, said in a statement. “Retailers are preparing for a rush of consumers leading into Thanksgiving and all through December.”

Despite the vast merchandise options and convenience of delivery that online shopping offers, brick-and-mortar stores are still the top choice for most people.

“The internet accounts for about 8 to 9 percent of all retail sales and about 12 to 15 percent of Christmas sales,” said Stephen Coslik, chairman and CEO of the Woodmont Co., the Fort Worth-based property management company that manages about 20 million square feet of retail shopping centers, enclosed malls and outlet centers in 22 states.

“About 87 percent of shoppers want to go into stores, touch, feel and try on the merchandise,” Coslik said.

Some will buy while others will then turn to online sites to seek out the best price, he said.

“This is especially true of electronics,” Coslik said. “People will go into a store to look at the quality of a big screen TV and then will shop the internet for the lowest price on that item.”

The rise in online shopping and competition from discounters have been a terrifying challenge for many retailers, particularly department stores that struggle to hang on. Earlier in November, Sears said the company will close 63 more Sears and Kmart stores after the holiday season. More than 10,000 stores are expected to close by the end of the year, Coslik said.

Retailers that adopt the integrated system known as omnichannel, which allows customers to buy online or by phone and return items to local stores, stand the best chance of survival, Coslik said.

As Thanksgiving weekend approaches, retailers have come up with various promotions and special events to draw out about 164 million people who plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day and the following days – Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. An analysis of 2016 transactions involving 7,300 Texas retailers found that Black Friday and Dec. 23 were the biggest revenue days of the year, according to Womply, a software support service for small businesses.

In Fort Worth, promotions and special events include horse-drawn carriage rides and other festivities at A Clearfork Christmas at The Shops at Clearfork and Starlight Symphony Holiday Celebration, which transforms Crockett Row along West Seventh Street into a winter wonderland with an hourly music and lights show and free horse-drawn carriage rides. Places such as Grapevine and Arlington are also luring shoppers with special events and shows geared to bring in customers.

With the opening of several new stores ahead of the holiday season, The Shops at Clearfork has made a priority of creating experiences for shoppers beyond the merchandise in the stories. Anchored by Neiman Marcus, which opened in February, a mix of luxury apparel, jewelry, home furnishings and restaurants have continued to debut in this open-air center in the midst of the mixed-used Clearfork development

In addition to an 18-screen AMC movie theater and a Pinstripes bowling and bocce ball venue, the development includes a wellness and fitness area known as The Trailhead, which will offer fitness classes, a bike shop, cafe and other family-friendly activities such as art classes, bird-watching and a farmers market.

Coslik said experience is an important part of the process for shoppers, especially for luxury goods. That experience must extend beyond the activities in the shopping center to the actual purchase of an item.

“Luxury goods shoppers want something special and unique and they want excellent service,” Coslik said.

Retailers who are struggling to stay afloat are also coming up with strategies to entice shoppers. Ridgmar Mall, which lost Neiman Marcus to the Shops at Clearfork earlier this year, is offering its stores the option to open on Thanksgiving Day, and it houses a new kid-friendly SeaQuest Aquarium.

Like many retailers, the mall will be extremely friendly to consumers to draw traffic. It will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving and will hold a drawing for a $500 shopping spree to a store of the winner’s choice in the center.

J.C. Penney, also struggling against competition, will open its stores at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and will keep them open until 10 p.m. on Black Friday. The Plano-based retailer also launched an advertising campaign promoting its lower prices and shoppers’ ability to check off everything on their list under budget.

For many holiday shoppers, convenience and time-saving is far more important than carolers, carriage rides and promotions of $10 off for arriving before 1 p.m. Time-pressed shoppers tend to shop online for their gifts.

A hybrid option expected to become well-used this year is the “click and collect” approach that Walmart is rolling out in a big way.

“You go online and choose what you want and pay for it,” said Kelli Hollinger, director of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University. “Then you show up at the store and someone will bring it to your car.”

Walmart already has arrangements in place for curbside pickup at more than 1,000 of its stores.

Besides saving time and money, this approach beats Amazon Prime’s two-day delivery service because shoppers can swing by the store the same day they place an order, retailers say.

Nordstrom and CVS are among the retailers also looking to try this approach.

“We expect to see rapid expansion this year because it is helping people save time and it improves supply-chain efficiencies,” Hollinger said.

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