The importance of the Christmas shopping season to the overall success of retailers is well-documented. Regardless of how you may feel about the commercialization of Christmas, the sales generated through the seasonal generosity of gift-givers keeps storesí doors open during leaner months and helps keep workers employed throughout the year.

The significance of the after-Christmas shopping spree is often overlooked. But The Associated Press reported this week that according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., the week after Christmas accounts for about 16 percent of total holiday sales.

The holiday season accounts for up to 30 percent of annual store sales. For toy sellers, holiday business accounts for as much as 50 percent.

The nationís retailers have continued to slash prices this week in an effort to boost December sales that apparently are falling below even modest expectations. Merchants in past years have received an end-of-year bounce during big clearance markdowns and they find themselves again in the position of hoping that bargain-hunting consumers will come through in the end.

One unknown factor involves the growing popularity of gift cards. In todayís society, with families scattered across the country, gift cards are becoming a simple way to provide a meaningful present to loved ones whose current sizes, tastes and specific wishes are not easily discerned. In addition, the high cost of shipping heavy packages containing gifts that may or may not be desired is avoided. While the retailer gets an interest-free loan on the money used to buy the cards, merchandise doesnít move until the recipient chooses to redeem it ó perhaps months later. Indeed, surveys show that a high percentage of gift cards are never spent.

In the Brownwood area, sales reports have been more optimistic than they have been nationally. And amid the national hand-wringing, itís significant to note that sales were still expected to increase ó not decrease ó by about 2.5 percent. Stores that have not reached that point can still salvage the season with a good after-Christmas showing.

A better tally of how retailers fared wonít arrive until at least Jan. 10, when major merchants report final same-store sales figures for December. Merchants will report fourth-quarter profits in February, the same month in Texas when retail sales tax figures will be known.

At a time when shoppers are being more cautious, itís a favorable market for finding bargains. The holiday weekend awaits, consumers, and the economy is waiting for your response.

Brownwood Bulletin