McALLEN — At one of La Plaza Mall’s newest retail options, there was nothing to gauge the success of their holiday sales against — except expectations.
By most accounts, those have been exceeded thus far for retailers across the Rio Grande Valley during the busiest shopping season of the year. While most other retailers at La Plaza Mall could draw on historical precedent for predicting sales, the Pandora jewelry outlet only opened in late September.
But store manager Roxanna Cortez said the store’s sales have exceeded expectations while attracting a diverse clientele. On Black Friday, the store saw steady traffic where lookers often turned into buyers, and Pandora’s sales have remained steady in the following two weeks.
Cortez attributed a busier-than-expected first holiday season to its exclusive focus on the custom-made jewelry that gives it a wider selection of bracelets, necklaces and earrings than other dealers. The store has also seen a greater mix of local customers than the international shoppers who typically dominate the mall.
“We thought that would be the norm,” she said. “It’s turned out to be more like 50/50” between domestic and international customers.
The Valley should see a slightly busier holiday shopping season than last year with the economy further out of the doldrums, a better outlook in Mexico and hopeful projections for a busier Winter Texan season. Another increase would be welcome after three years of declining holiday sales in McAllen were finally reversed last year.
The Valley’s projections are in line with what most forecasts for U.S. retailers have called for this year. The National Retail Federation projected holiday sales would increase 4.1 percent this year, up from the 10-year average increase of 3.5 percent. Most other groups are less optimistic due to ongoing economic uncertainty.
In the Valley, though, a slightly different market prevails because of the influx of international shoppers who may be more willing to cross the border this year following that country’s presidential election. At La Plaza, a bellwether to track Mexican nationals, retailers have seen a larger number than years prior.
The mall’s foot traffic this year was likely the highest it’s ever seen for a Black Friday, said Isabel Rodriguez-Vera, the area director of marketing and business development for La Plaza Mall. With the mall opening at midnight, lines stretched far outside the doors awaiting entry. Other lines soon extended inside the mall after stores met their capacity under the fire code.
The strong sales, however, have persisted beyond Black Friday at La Plaza. Although it’s hard to pinpoint one reason since the mall doesn’t actively survey shoppers, Rodriguez-Vera said international shoppers are playing a big role.
“We’re seeing a lot of international shoppers spending the night. Some hotels are booked 100 percent,” she said. “If the hotels are reporting fewer vacancies, we see that bumping up our sales.”
Stores have also reported individual customers spending more, which generally indicates increased consumer confidence.
Retailers’ pitch to holiday customers now begins far in advance of Black Friday to create a deal-savvy and informed shoppers. With frugal shoppers opting for online deals through Cyber Monday, it’s created more competition for customers to fill up the space under their Christmas tree.
Smarter consumers now realize they don’t have to go out on Black Friday and buy everything, said Paul Rappaport, the general manager for Edinburg’s Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley. Unlike past years where customers risked missing out on holiday must-haves if they flew off the shelves, they’ve now developed a tendency to wait.
That’s why Rappaport’s stores have seen steady traffic since Black Friday, but customers also appear to be spending more.
“At the registers, it seems to be working out much better,” he said. “If I were to interpret what that means, I would say people are less concerned with what’s going on and looking to give their children and family a decent holiday.”
Jared Janes covers Hidalgo County government, Edinburg and legislative issues for The Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4424.
Follow Jared Janes on Twitter: @moncounty
THE HOLIDAY SHOPPING SPIRIT
After three straight years of declines in holiday sales, McAllen retailers saw a slight boost in receipts last year. Most McAllen retailers are expecting another slight increase.
December 2011 — $7,152,648.32
December 2010 — $6,977,298.90
December 2009 — $7,151,559.79
December 2008 — $7,237,346.53
December 2007 — $7,540,348.03
SOURCE: TEXAS COMPTROLLER