Local retailers anticipate strong holiday shopping season, despite inflation

Despite the impacts of continued inflation throughout the year, local retailers still expect a strong holiday shopping season.

Local retailers either are preparing holiday shopping sales or already have started offering deals for customers looking to get ahead on crossing items off their shopping lists. Officials with several local retailers said they expect to see strong crowds taking advantage of holiday sales and offerings, though inflation concerns likely still will be on the minds of consumers.

“We’re understanding that inflation has certainly taken a toll on a lot of people’s pocketbooks,” said Keri Hanson, director of marketing and e-commerce for the Dubuque-based Theisen’s Home-Farm-Auto. “That’s why we have come out and shown value early for customers to feel they are saving throughout the extended holiday shopping season.”

The strong holiday shopping trend also is expected to play out on a national scale, though the consumer price index was up 7.7% for the 12 months ending in October, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The National Retail Federation earlier this month forecasted that holiday retail sales will grow 6% to 8% this year compared to 2021, rising to between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion, despite challenges with inflation. Last year’s holiday sales totaled $889.3 billion, breaking previous records.

Hanson said Theisen’s started holding holiday shopping sales prior to Black Friday so customers could take advantage of deals earlier in the year.

“Inflation hit everyone,” she said. “Every time someone goes to the grocery store, we’re definitely seeing that. Our buyers did a really great job negotiating hard with our vendors to come up with some really great value for our customers.”

Hanson added that inventory challenges also have subsided compared to the previous two years, which were heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even with customers wanting to come out and shop, there’s been a big return to that quote-unquote ‘normal,’” she said. “In prior years, more people would buy online and come pick up items or do shipping orders. People wanted to avoid public places. We have really seen a return to people wanting to come in, grab some popcorn, walk around the aisles and look at all the great holiday items.”

Drew Siegert, president of the Dubuque-based Betty Jane Candies, said so far this year he has seen more orders for holiday treats coming in early.

“Our costs went up across the board last year, just like everybody else,” he said. “We had some price increases, but not many. We did eat a lot of the cost increases rather than passing it along to our customers. We don’t really see much of a downturn, regardless of how the economy is doing. We’re fairly similar year to year with the holiday ordering, and we see orders increasing most years.”

Siegert said shoppers should place orders early for Betty Jane to guarantee items for the holidays, including the business’ holiday boxes and seasonal brittles. He noted Betty Jane also has launched a version of its Gremlins with 55% less sugar.

Charlie Hartig, CEO of Dubuque-based Hartig Drug, said he expects the company’s locations will see similar holiday sales to the previous two years.

“We expect it to be kind of flat,” he said. “This season may be good in terms of dollars due to items increasing in price, but Hartig Drug is trying to absorb most of that, as possible. At the end of the day, what we probably anticipate is prices being up, which will make it look like a good season, but in terms of nickels and dimes it will be a flat season for us.”

Hartig said that in both pharmaceutical and giftware aisles, the latter of which drives holiday sales, more people have been turning to generic or cheaper options when able.

“We’re still doing a lot of things we’d normally do, but we’re making changes to the economic environment,” he said. “Thankfully, our business model is not super reliant on holiday season sales, but we’re tweaking here and there to listen to our customers.”

Alan Turner, co-owner of Poopsie’s and Spotsie’s in Galena, Ill., said shopper traffic in downtown Galena has been great so far when the weather is nice, and events in the community throughout December also will benefit local retailers.

“I think people are being mindful of what they’re purchasing,” Turner noted. “It’s been deal-driven this fall, partly because of inflation. But people are still Christmas shopping. Everybody is going to get gifts for kids for the holidays.”