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    Dillard students prepare for Christmas shopping

    Christmas time is here and the retail industry puts out all the trimmings for shoppers this holiday season. There are exactly 28 shopping days until Christmas and some Dillard students are not fretting. Their shopping lists are already done and students say the actual shopping process should be a breeze.

    "I did come up with a budget this year and I plan to spend about $500," said Monique Lorden, sophomore political science major. Lorden said her list consists of gifts for her immediate family and close friends. Unlike many people who flocked to the malls and specialty stores last weekend, Lorden is not an early bird.

    "I like shopping late. This way, I am able to catch all the good sales," Lorden said. The holiday shopping season began the day after Thanksgiving, with stores pulling the graveyard shift and opening in the wee hours of the morning to lure in shoppers for early bird specials.

    The Christmas holiday season is the biggest for the retail industry. The National Retail Federation expects shoppers to spend $219.9 billion on gifts and other preparations for Christmas, which is a 4.5 percent increase from last year’s total.

    "Although consumer spending has been inconsistent in recent months, we expect the holiday season to bring more stability to the industry," Rosalind Wells, NRF chief economist said in a recent statement. Wells also said she expects home-related merchandise and consumer electronics to be very popular as well as different trends to boost clothing sales this year.

    Holiday retail sales include sales general merchandise stores, clothing and clothing accessory stores, home furnishing stores, etc. Department stores begin planning ahead for what is the biggest season of the year for them. Other students do not have a set plan for shopping, but feel confident about finding the right gifts in due time.

    "I did not come up with a budget this year, so I do not know how much I will be spending this year," said Chris Balthazar, junior psychology major. Balthazar said he is not the type of person to shop early and usually does all of his shopping the week of Christmas.

    "I wait this long so that I can really get into the spirit and just go into debt!" "Black Friday" has been called one of the biggest shopping days of the year. The term "Black Friday" is an accounting term retailers use to indicate that there are black figures instead of red ones on spreadsheets. Last weekend reassured a stellar projection for the rest of the holiday season for local malls.

    "Last weekend proved to be a solid start to The Esplanade’s shopping season," said Anne Mialaret, director of marketing for The Esplanade Mall. This year, the mall featured a balloon drop at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 26. One of the balloons contained a voucher to the mall for $500.

    The Esplanade has introduced a mall gift card that will replace mall gift certificates and can be used at any store in the mall that accepts a Discover credit card. Mialaret expects the gift card sales to increase as the holiday season progresses.

    Nationwide and locally, retailers are elated because there are two extra shopping days this season than there was last year, but some area malls were not just relying on those extra days and started early to lure shoppers.

    "Prior to Black Friday, retailers have been pushing to cushion sales for the fourth quarter," said Tricia Thriffiley, marketing director for Lakeside Shopping Center. Thriffiley described this year’s "Black Friday" as "a phenomenal day."

    The mall opened an hour earlier than last year at 7 a.m. She also said some stores opened at 5 a.m. to get those early shoppers in the mall. Although the NRF expects a large spending season this year, the organization is aware that some economic factors will affect holiday spending. Wells said that the increasing interest rates, higher energy costs and slow income growth are some of the challenging factors for this holiday season.

    Some local small business owners are preparing for this season also. Patricia W. Thompson, owner of The Mustard Seed, said she starts preparing for the holidays in late September.

    "I start looking for popular, new fragrances and any other things that look like they are going to be attractive on the market for my gift baskets," Thompson said. She has been selling gift baskets, full-time, for the past four years. She began working on the project on the side, but decided to work full-time after retiring from BellSouth after 31 years.

    Thompson said she sells standard gift baskets and also makes them at custom order. The basket prices begin at $25 and increase according to the merchandise that is in the basket. She said she usually sells 75-100 baskets during the Christmas season, but she always has to be prepared for last minute orders.

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    Dillard students prepare for Christmas shopping