Retailers reviving personal touch

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Retailers wanting to draw customers during the holiday season should focus on a personal touch.
“There’s an adage, high tech, high touch,” said Beth Kosely, executive director of the Downtown Partnership. “The more our culture moves toward high tech at work and at play, there’s a backlash where people are seeking out very touchy-feely things to balance out the cold, high-tech things they are used to.”
Kosely said downtown plans to create an elegant atmosphere for the holidays with new decorations that will hopefully bring more shoppers into the area.
“We’re borrowing an idea from Rockefeller Center,” she said. “The banners will be gold lamé and we’re going to have amber lights. It will be very elegant.”
Area malls and shopping centers also are gearing up for the most profitable quarter of the year. According to industry surveys, the season will be merry for retailers.
“Our job is to bring customers to the center,” said Diane Loschen, senior marketing manager at the Citadel Mall. “The stores need to draw the customers inside from the people who just walk by.”
She agrees that a personal touch and excellent customer service will entice customers.
“It’s a different world than it used to be,” she said. “It used to be that you could open a store in the mall, turn on the lights and open the door – and you’d be successful. But competition is so strong now from big box retailers and from on-line sales, you really have to work harder. That’s where your customer service is going to make a difference.”
Higher energy prices, hurricanes and the war in Iraq have not stopped the holiday spirit, according to the findings of the latest National Retail Federation survey. The group discovered that the average consumer plans to spend $738.11 this holiday season, an increase of 5.1 percent compared to last year.
Loschen said the Citadel Mall is hoping for a strong holiday season, on the heels of national record-breaking sales in 2004.
“We’ve had an excellent year to date,” Loschen said. “We have not been affected by high gas prices or anything else. We’re really looking forward to a great season.”
Competing with national discount stores, area merchants are pulling out all the stops this year.
The National Retail Federation Survey shows that customers are looking for a great deal in choosing where to purchase holiday gift items, with more than one-third saying sales or price discounts are the most important factor in their purchasing decision.
Local retailers have to compete with the big box discount stores, Loschen said.
“It is no secret that consumers love to get a good deal,” said Phil Rist, vice president of Strategy for BIGresearch. “While sales and promotions will lure shoppers into stores, consumers are also willing to spend a little extra on quality merchandise.”
Kosely is hoping to draw downtown workers out of their office for shopping and dining during lunch and holiday parties.
“Much of our business comes from the offices here,” Kosely said. “So we really want to encourage them to come out of their businesses and see what we have to offer.”
Citadel Mall is trying a different approach to bring foot-traffic to the mall. The center is teaming with NORAD to track Santa’s trek around the globe to deliver presents on Christmas Eve.
For 50 years, NORAD has used its missile defense capabilities to track Santa’s journey across the night sky.
“We’re going to partner with them and bring it into the mall,” she explained. “Kids can look through a view finder and see Santa flying over certain parts of the world. They can click on a map and hear “Happy Holidays” in different languages.”