As Black Friday approaches, local retailers wait and hope

Local retailers bracing for Black Friday are doing so with a bit of mixed emotions this week.

On the one hand, they expect the sluggish economy and numbers that are down overall in 2007 to make this holiday season not as lucrative as in recent years.

On the other hand, a shift in shopping habits, especially a trend away from shopping online, gives some a glimmer of hope.

According to a recent study conducted by ForeSee Results, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based consumer tracking and consultant firm, customer satisfaction with retail Web sites has dropped during October and November - the pre-holiday shopping season.

The study attributed the decline to lack of personal service or overall reliability with lesser-known sites, the study said.

Several local retailers said they have seen online only shoppers "come back" in recent months.

"A lot of our job here is to dispense information people are not going to get online," said Ken Seymour, owner of Carson's Hobbytown USA. "If someone buys a radio-controlled airplane, I can help him build it, show him how to use it and get him with a pilot - an online outfit can't do that, they're not going to."

Heidi Cross, who works at D'Vine Wine, said many of the wine tasting house's customers come in for "a personal experience."

"We're definitely a specialty shop and we have repeat business," she said. "It's a place people can come and sample the product."

Both retailers said business leading up to traditional holiday shopping time has been slow, and don't know what to expect.

"We're down from a year ago," Seymour said. "There's not a whole lot of people coming in before Thanksgiving.

"We didn't see a big Black Friday last year or the year before, so we've got nothing certain planned. We have cut back on inventory - but we've also got what people need. So we're waiting, hoping."

Or, in the words of Cross:

"It kind of seems like business as usual for now," she said. "We're hoping for a little pickup."

- Andrew Pridgen


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