Tucson area retailers say they expect a modest increase in sales for the all-important holiday shopping season just under way.
Discounting and other traditional marketing techniques to attract customers have already begun, but brick-and-mortar retailers are also adapting to new consumer demands, including Internet shopping.
Merchants are adding services, using strategic discounts and even setting up their own e-commerce sites to compete with the burgeoning growth of Web sales.
Customers are saying, "I want it when I want it, where I want it, and I want it fast," said Martha Van Gelder, director of the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing at the University of Arizona. "So the retailers have had to invest a lot of money and a lot of marketing strategy in terms of how to address that."
Van Gelder, a former marketing chief for Gaiam Inc., a health and wellness products and media company, appears on Friday's Arizona Week discussing the challenges facing retailers.
"What retailers have learned is they've taken their inventories a little lower, (and) they're doing very special promotions," Van Gelder said. "But they're really watching to make sure that they're matching expectations to the cautious consumer."
Jim Heilmann, general manager of Park Place Mall in Tucson, echoed Van Gelder, saying in an Arizona Week interview that mall management and tenants have made numerous adjustments to meet consumer needs and desires.
"The customers nowadays really shop smarter than maybe in the past," Heilmann said. "They really want value in everything they do. And the traditional mall retail platform -- the bricks and mortar -- really provides a venue that can't be provided through any other shopping experience."
Heilmann said he is optimistic for a good holiday season to cap a year that has seen spending grow at Park Place.
"We've seen an increase in sales this year all the way through October," he said. "We'll see how things go for the holidays. We're very optimistic that in Tucson our numbers should reflect the national trends, which is looking maybe in the ballpark of 2, 3, 4, 5, hopefully more than that, percentage increase ... from last year."
Some smaller retailers are having a good year and expect to do well during the holidays, although they must work hard to compete with big malls and big-box stores. Tucson's North Fourth Avenue, an eclectic grouping of small shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, has seen modest growth.
"Fortuntely, Fourth Avenue has a broad customer base, ranging from people with gray hair to those pushing their baby carriages," said John Sedwick, executive director of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association. "So with that broad mix, we've been able to be OK through the recession. And OK nowadays is good."
Reporter Michael Chihak further explores the prospects for the shopping season, on Arizona Week. Watch here.