Northlake Mall Black Friday 11-25-16 by Jon Strayhorn

Evidence that stores are pulling off a decent holiday season keeps coming in.

“It looks like a solid selling season for brick and mortar,” Scott Wolstein, chief executive officer of Starwood Retail Partners, told WWD on Wednesday.

He characterized the season as “consistent” with forecasts for sales gains in the 3 to 4 percent range and said it’s been fueled by last-minute shopping, Hanukkah starting late and the extra two days between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared to last year.

“One positive surprise is that department stores did a little better than expected,” Wolstein said. Restaurants, cosmetics, women’s and children’s clothing, and athletic footwear were strong, though jewelry wasn’t and theater sales were flat, he said.

Regarding traffic Monday and Tuesday this week, “Anecdotally, it continues to be solid,” Wolstein said. “With most shoppers given the day off, Dec. 26 also saw some of the strongest traffic of the season, especially for restaurants.”

Starwood’s holiday report was consistent with disclosures over the last few days from other retailers and retail analysts of a late surge in gift shopping. though that happens year after year, this time it appeared more robust.

Analysts at the Telsey Advisory Group said in a research note Wednesday that last week, “Malls were busy and traffic seemed average to above average as most consumers shopped for last-minute items for Christmas and Hanukkah. In addition, the traffic momentum continued post-Christmas as consumers redeemed gift cards, returned products and shopped clearance merchandise.”

However, Cowen and Co. had a different perspective, stating Wednesday in a report that mall traffic is still challenged and remains negative, though its not as bad as expected, declining 8.18 percent in the week ending Dec. 24, above the negative 10 to 12 percent projected. Retailers in malls, while seeing less shoppers this year, have found conversion rates to be better, meaning those entering stores are buying and not just browsing.

Starwood, founded in 2012 and owned by Starwood Capital Group, owns a total of 30 malls, open-air and lifestyle centers around the country. Among the firm’s largest are the 1,650,000-square-foot Southpark Mall in Strongsville, Ohio; the 1,400,000-square-foot Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, Mich.; the 1,360,000-square-foot Southlake Mall in Merrillville, Ind.; the 1,270,000-square-foot Mall at Wellington Green in Wellington, Fla., and the 1,200,000-square-foot Shops at Willow Bend in Plano, Tex.

“Shoppers want the greatest value for their hard-earned dollars, and many will wait until the last possible moment to find that perfect gift at the best possible price. This year proved that, as Friday, Dece. 23 proved to be the second-busiest day of the season, our retailers tell us,” said Wolstein.

To compile the report, Starwood Retail’s mall staff requests year-over-year sales from approximately 28 center specialty tenants and department stores. Traffic figures are obtained through in-center Wi-Fi technology, retailers’ reports of best-selling items and mall staff at seven centers interviewing guests through the season for anecdotal evidence of their shopping plans and patterns.