Retailers in LMC survey: We’re going to be OK this holiday season

For all the concern about how the pandemic will impact the holiday season, one annual survey showed retailers have some optimism.

Will they make more than a year ago? Not necessarily. Only one-third of those taking the annual Levin Management Corp. survey said they expected sales to increase. And, even those said it would be a modest increase.

But, more than half (54%) believe their overall holiday sales will hit the same or a higher level than last year.

LMC, a North Plainfield-based commercial real estate services firm, has been polling its tenants for the past decade with a Pre-Holiday Retail Sentiment Survey — asking them to categorize their September/October sales and traffic compared to the same period last year.

Matthew Harding. (Levin Management Corp.)

CEO Matthew Harding said he was pleasantly surprised by the results.

“2020 has been nothing like we’ve seen before, but, with our nearly seven decades of history and deep expertise serving the retail community, we know that this industry continually experiences ups and downs,” he said. “Yet, even within that context, this early fall performance really is a positive sign for a sector that was largely shut down just months before.”

The fact that more than half of the retailers felt they would do the same business as a year ago was terrific news, Harding said. Even if the number was lower than in years past.

“We view it as positive in light of current circumstances,” Harding said.

LMC said its survey supports other industry studies, noting a holiday survey by the National Retail Federation, which found that COVID-19 cases would have no impact on holiday spending for 55% of shoppers.

And, looking at the Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday period, the NRF reported an average spend of $311.75 on holiday-related purchases — which is down from $361.90 last year but closely mirrors 2018’s average. While the number of shoppers tracked by the NRF during the same period dropped slightly, from 189.6 million in 2019, this year’s 186.4 million shoppers far exceeded the 165.8 million total in 2018.

Harding noted that both the LMC survey results and his team’s own recent experience working with retail tenants points to the creativity and agility of the industry as it adapts to successfully move forward and accommodate customer needs. Following months of shifting operations to adhere to a variety of evolving health and safety protocols, retailers made even more changes specific to managing in-store traffic levels during their traditionally busiest season.

“Nearly half (47.1%) of our respondents have created additional holiday fulfillment options — such as online ordering for store or curbside pickup, shipping or delivery service,” Harding said. “And many respondents have implemented multiple modifications with customer convenience and safety in mind.”

These include designated areas for click-and-collect orders, including in-store or curbside (25.5%); increased hours (21.6%); longer promotion periods to avoid “the rush” (20.6%); and shopping reservations/appointment times (12.7%).

Open-air shopping centers comprise the bulk of LMC’s 110-property, 15.5 million-square-foot portfolio, which has afforded some advantages to the firm’s tenants, according to Harding. Not only do neighborhood, community and power centers house traffic-driving essential categories like grocery and home improvement, they also provide a higher level of operational flexibility and convenience than other product types.

“We have been able to work with restaurants to increase outdoor seating where possible and set up contactless curbside pickup for inline tenants,” Harding said. “Our team also has assisted centers with social media marketing and signage to help them promote safety practices and communicate that they are open for business. These efforts have enabled our retailers to tailor their operations to the wants and needs of consumers.”