With more people working than ever and the economy still booming, merchants are expected to ring up about 4 percent higher sales than last year as the holiday shopping season hits full throttle after Thanksgiving.
Purchases of gifts, decorations and other items will set a record of nearly $731 billion nationally, while the average consumer will lay out nearly $1,050 over the November-December holiday period, according to the National Retail Federation.
The nation's largest retail trade group excludes purchases at auto shops, restaurants and gas stations in its forecast.
“Consumers are in good financial shape and willing to spend a little more on gifts for the special people in their lives this holiday season,” retail group president and CEO Matthew Shay said.
Many will visit national big-box retailers and discount shops or shop online, but the growing movement of buying local is expected to have an impact.
About one-fourth of all shoppers plan to patronize a locally owned business this year, according to the trade group.
That would put about $250 per shopper in the coffers of local businesses during the critical end-of-year shopping season when many retailers ring up about 20 percent of their transactions.
Driving home the "Buy Local" message is Lowcountry Local First.
The Charleston-based agency of about 500 business members is in the middle of its annual Buy Local month from mid-November to mid-December.
Signs on utility poles on major retail thoroughfares around the metro area — King Street in Charleston, East Montague in North Charleston, Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant and Seven Farms Drive on Daniel Island — urge shoppers to shop and dine at local businesses.
"Most people want to shop and get things done as quickly and successfully as possible," Lowcountry Local First spokeswoman Jordan Amaker said. "The retail community has stepped up to make their experiences stronger or more convenient. Many offer free drinks or curbside assistance."
She said three times more of every dollar spent stays in the local community when a purchase is made at a local, independently owned merchant versus buying at a national retailer.
"About 45 cents of every dollar stays local versus 14 cents for national retailers," Amaker said.
"When you spend that dollar locally, it is passed on to the tertiary plumber or accountant or graphic designer or cleaning services provider," she said. "It stays in the community and supports more quality jobs."
Many Charleston-area customers are already following the trend and planning to spend more than the average customer nationally in locally owned shops.
Dana Sweeney of Daniel Island believes 75 percent of her spending this holiday season will be in local stores.
"I especially try to source local first," said Sweeney, while shopping in Mount Pleasant recently for gifts at North Charleston-based, independently owned Half-Moon Outfitters. "I'm also trying to make it more personalized this year by resetting some of my jewelry with a local jeweler."
She added, though, if she can't find what she's looking for and needs something in a rush, she'll go to Amazon.
Online sales are expected to increase between 14 percent and 18 percent over last year, according to consulting firm Deloitte. That would put click-and-order transactions at between $144 billion and $149 billion, up from last year's $126.4 billion spent online, based on the firm's estimates.
Though online sales are expected to be up, most of Sweeney's money will be spent locally and she plans to spend more than the national projected average of roughly $1,050 this year per shopper.
In West Ashley, Priscilla Holtzclaw also will lay out more money than the national average this year.
Shopping for gifts in the locally owned Wonder Works toy store, the retired family doctor likes to make initial holiday purchases at locally owned businesses.
"I try this type of shopping first," she said while browsing the children's wonderland of offerings in the store at St. Andrews Shopping Center, one of four Wonder Works in the Charleston area.
"I shop online during the year but not as much at Christmas," Holtzclaw said. "I can come here and get ideas that I can't get on Amazon. I'd rather go in the store. I like to see and touch and feel things."
Holtzclaw estimates at least 50 percent of her holiday purchases will be made at locally owned businesses.
Brooke Johnson of Mount Pleasant likes to patronize independently owned businesses, too.
While browsing items at the locally owned Pink Crocodile gift shop in North Charleston, the mother of three young girls said she will probably purchase 75 percent of all gifts at local shops this year.
"We always try to do local first," she said.
But not everyone will be walking into locally owned shops for holiday gifts.
Chelsea Mills and her husband, Kameron, of Charleston Air Force Base in North Charleston, plan to do almost all of their shopping this year at big-box stores or Amazon.
"Sometimes you get better deals online," Chelsea Mills said while shopping with Kameron and their two daughters, 2 and 4 years old, at Target in West Ashley. "We usually don't shop at local stores because we don't know which ones are local and tend to move around since we are on the base."
Red to black ink
Dena Davis, owner of the Pink Crocodile in the Park Circle area, doesn't call the busiest shopping day of the year Black Friday, a name that refers to merchants turning a yearly profit by going from red ink to black ink on their ledgers.
"I call it Pink Friday," she said with a chuckle. "People are more cognizant of shopping local as well as shopping on Small Business Saturday. People are out and about, and they realize that we have such unique gifts, that they make their lists and bring them here."
Small Business Saturday enters its 10th year this weekend, aiming to punctuate the importance of independently owned merchants and capture holiday dollars locally the day after the big-box Black Friday sales have come and gone.
The owners of joggling board company The Joggle Factory at Edisto Beach urge people to look local first.
"We encourage our customers to spend time with their families on Black Friday, rather than buying from big-box stores," said Kristi Outland, who co-owns the business with her husband, Chris. "We suggest they honor Small Business Saturday to support locally made goods and small brick-and-mortar businesses in the U.S. and especially around the Lowcountry of South Carolina."
To enforce its support of urging people to shop on Small Business Saturday, the locally owned business will begin offering discounts on joggling boards at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
For Davis in North Charleston, the city offers several big events during the year on East Montague which also helps to drive traffic into her store, but she believes her sales may be down somewhat this year.
"A lot of people don't go out to shop anymore," she said, noting a decrease in sidewalk traffic. "They have everything delivered."
Some of the streets are torn up near her shop, which she believes could affect holiday shopping, but she's keeping her chin up and still plans to offer specials to get people in the door.
Davis will stay open late on Friday nights and offer free beer. She also plans to continue turning on the television on weekends to bring in football fans. And her door is usually propped open, if weather permits, to welcome curious passersby inside.
Local business owner Beezer Molten of Half-Moon Outfitters is more upbeat and expects an exceptional holiday shopping season at his string of eight stores across South Carolina and Georgia.
"People started shopping early because of the cold snap that happened countrywide in mid-November," he said. "The cold early on matters in my business as we head into the holidays. We are off to a great start. It's been a great fall."
The company set a 5 percent sales-growth target earlier this year.
"If think we will easily make that," Molten said. "It could be double digits."
He also said it's important that people shop at local businesses, saying sales support the jobs of 140 people across his eight-store footprint and the staff provides a service shoppers can't find online.
"People who go into a local store can experience customer service in a real hands-on manner that they can't get anywhere else," Molten said.