LUMBERTON — The Christmas songs are no longer playing on the radio, presents have been unwrapped and the holidays have come and gone, but the shopping continues at a brisk pace in stores across Robeson County.
Many stores in the area already are reporting that December has been a busy and profitable month, which is on par with the early sales numbers across the country. According to MasterCard, in-store holiday sales grew 4.9 percent this year, its largest increase since 2011, while online shopping increased 18.1 percent.
“It went really good here,” said Mary Smith, manager of the Belk store in Biggs Park Mall in Lumberton. “A lot of our Christmas things are all gone.”
Smith couldn’t compare this year with past years because she recently moved to the store from the Whiteville location. She did say a good measure of the season’s success is that nearly all the Christmas items are sold out. The most popular items, air fryers, cosmetics and holiday candy, won’t be back on the shelves for some time.
Even though shoppers no longer have friends or family members to buy for, the store is offering sales featuring items that still are available. Through Wednesday, the store had most everything in the store on sale from 20 to 80 percent off the original prices, with an additional 20 percent off for customers who have a Belk card.
Belk isn’t the only store trying to get customers to take another look at its merchandise. McNeill Jewelers also is in the middle of a sale after a Christmas season that was decent, though not as good as the most recent years.
“I think it was better last year,” Supervisor Doris Willoughby said. “We always have a lot of people coming in around Christmas.”
The store in Biggs Park Mall sold more Pandora bracelets and charms than anything else before Christmas, Willoughby said. Through New Year’s Day the store is offering everything except select items at half off or more in order to keep a steady stream of customers supplied with affordable jewelry to buy.
The crowds have been consistent since they reopened the day after Christmas.
“It has not been busy busy, but it has been steady,” Willoughby said.
Across the mall at J.C. Penny, managers also want to capitalize on post-holiday buying. Manager Betty Johnson said the store had success through Christmas and will continue to offer sales into 2018.
“It was great,” Johnson said with a big smile on her face. “We gave out $10-off coupons on the 23rd and had 15 to 20 percent off.”
Johnson said the store had a really positive month, and the money has continued to roll in since then. The day after Christmas, the store had a 50 percent gain compared with last year, with most people entering the store to buy more items, rather than return gifts that didn’t fit.
“They were in line at every register and we had them all running,” Johnson said. “It stayed like that and we went over what we had last year.”
The Christmas season wasn’t all happy news for Robeson County retailers.
Increasing Internet sales are dipping into profits, said Lindsey Locklear, general manager of Pembroke True Value Hardware.
“We have to compete with online sales,” Locklear said. “They have basically no overhead costs.”
Locklear said customers stroll into the hardware store with their phones out, asking for a price match. They don’t understand that businesses in a physical location incur higher operating costs. Unlike an online retail store, True Value has more expenses, such as a mortgage, utilities and payroll.
“I don’t think that people know how the community is affected when we buy online rather than local,” he said.
Supporting local businesses is crucial to the community, it provides jobs and keeps money flowing in the area, Locklear said.
“Online sales are eroding the community,” Locklear said. “I don’t think that people realize how much this will affect them.”
Locklear is hoping the store’s 50 percent off sale will drum up more business before the year is out.
Store managers said it was too early to know the exact sales numbers for December. Those will be compiled in the first days of the new year, but the stores can already tell that a long, busy season led to a truly happy holiday for the retail business in the county.
Reach Jack Frederick by calling 910-416-5864. Reach Annick Joseph