December 18, 2019 / 12:07 PM / a month ago

Saturday before Christmas expected to be the biggest U.S. shopping day of 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. retailers are expected to ring up record sales on Super Saturday this year, as fewer days than usual between Thanksgiving and Christmas have squeezed shoppers to finish their purchases.

In recent years, the Saturday before Christmas has seen a late surge in shopper traffic. With retailers maintaining deep discounts late into the holiday season, total sales on Super Saturday have edged closer to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving which traditionally kicks off the season in November.

Many retail consultants and analysts estimate the surge will bump Super Saturday into the biggest shopping day this year.

Craig Johnson, president at retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners, expects people to spend $34 billion this year on Super Saturday. These estimates include in-store and online purchases but exclude sales generated at gas stations, restaurants and automobile dealers. In comparison, Black Friday generated $31.5 billion in sales, he said.

“Consumer demand remains strong,” Johnson said. “While mall traffic is weak, those that are going to stores are buying more.”

   Despite slowing global growth, U.S. consumer spending is benefiting from wage growth and a strong labor market, retail consultants and analysts said.

Also, prices have remained steady instead of rising as widely expected, they said, which has spurred spending. According to an analysis by Reuters, retailers including Walmart Inc and Amazon.com Inc held prices steady for many popular holiday products sold online despite pressure from U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports.

Many retailers are responding to the late surge in spending by keeping stores open for longer in the days before Christmas. They have also added more staff in stores this year, reversing a trend that saw more workers being added to warehouses to ship online orders.

With store shoppers becoming more deliberate about their purchases, retailers’ investments in improving the customer experience is resulting in stronger sales, analysts said.

“The shoppers that are coming into the store during the holidays want the personal touch...otherwise they’d be online,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president at placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. “They want somebody to guide them through the inventory and in some ways help them select the right products at the right prices,” he said.

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Target said it is giving employees in stores a serious bump in hours, investing an extra $50 million into the effort. Similarly, Walmart’s holiday strategy this year has also focused on customer service improvements.

For instance, its Check Out With Me feature, which allows; shoppers paying by credit card to skip out on long lines by having employees equipped with cellular devices and bluetooth printers check them out anywhere in the store, is available in all big stores.

The National Retail Federation estimates U.S. holiday retail sales in November and December will increase between 3.8% and 4.2% over 2018, for a total of $727.9 billion to $730.7 billion. That compares with an average annual increase of 3.7% over the past five years .

Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington, Additional reporting by Melissa Fares in New York; Editing by David Gregorio

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