Maryland's holiday retail season appears to be off to a solid start, with several surveys showing shoppers thus far spending more this year than last.
TeleCheck Services said Maryland's retail sales increased by 3.8 percent in November, while sales over the Thanksgiving shopping weekend increased by a less robust 1.1 percent in Maryland and 2.8 percent in Baltimore. The November figures for Maryland were better than the national average of 2.1 percent.
The company's data is based on a comparison of the dollar volume of authorized checks written by consumers at about 20,000 stores nationwide. TeleCheck compares sales in stores open at least a year, a truer indicator than sales at all stores.
"The early shoppers are spending more money," said William Ford, a senior economist with TeleCheck Services. "But they don't seem to be wearing out their checkbooks and pens."
In fact, he said, the number of checks written in the Baltimore region decreased from November of last year, but the average check was written for more, up from $88.22 to $95.08. Ford said that indicates that the early shoppers are probably the wealthier shoppers. Preliminary figures for Maryland's sales tax receipts for October from the comptroller's office, which were also
released yesterday, showed an 8 percent gain for the month over October 1995.
In addition, the four-month period from July through October saw a 5 percent gain in sales tax receipts. Sales tax figures include gasoline and new stores, which are not included in the TeleCheck survey.
"We think things are going pretty well," said Ann Franklin, economist for the state Board of Revenue Estimates. "We are seeing some pretty solid percentages."
An informal survey of local retailers of different sizes indicates a good month, according to Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association.
In phone calls made yesterday, he said, retailers told him they had a satisfactory weekend, but that they were even more impressed by November sales. "They were very happy with their November figures," Saquella said.
He said shoppers appear to be going to the stores earlier than usual to compensate for a shorter holiday selling season.
One indication that this year is going better than last is that stores have not started big sales to get rid of inventories.
"They have not panicked," Saquella said. "You don't see 50-to- 70-percent-off sales."
Instead, retailers have kept tighter control over inventory and hope to sell what they have at a higher profit.
A survey of malls by the International Council of Shopping Centers showed an even more dramatic increase of 11.9 percent nationwide for the three-day Thanksgiving weekend.
The group does not survey smaller retailers outside of malls or main streets in America that traditionally see their biggest sales in the last two weeks before Christmas.
Pub Date: 12/04/96