TUPELO • Consumers may be excited about the Christmas shopping, but so are retailers.

In a positive sign headed into Black Friday – the traditional start of the holiday shopping season – the Commerce Department last week said retail sales jumped 1.7% in October, the biggest increase since March. That bump comes after rising 0.8% in September, and was the third consecutive monthly increase and topped economists' expectations. Sales soared 16.3% year-over-year in October and are 21.4% above their pre-pandemic level.

Talk of chain supply issues limiting inventory and options hasn't affected some retailers, like Reed's department store in Tupelo, which has two stores in the city and another in Starkville.

"I may be a little of an outlier for retailers, but our inventory is strong," said company CEO Jack Reed Jr. "We've got lot more than last year. About 95% of everything I ordered came. We anticipated some of problems and got early delivery – a summer delivery – on anything companies could ship."

Some shoppers, eager to get the jump on the holiday shopping hordes, also got an early start. With many stores closed or limiting entry and hours last year during the pandemic, retail analysts believe pent-up demand and consumers who have been in saving mode will be in the mood to spend. 

"I’ve been done since September. Paid about the same as last year," said Tara Hotek Cayson. "Ended up buying a less number of actual items. My child received a lot of random things throughout the pandemic that she wouldn’t have gotten if we hadn’t been in a pandemic and all that entailed."

Other shoppers haven't been as fortunate, however.

"I would like to buy some computer parts, but lack of availability means they are costing three times the MSRP," said Bruce Dodson. "I will also need a car next year, and used car prices are up 25% in the past year. Also worried about inflation and the prices of everything else going up drastically means I am going into saver mode."

According to Mastercard SpendingPulse projections, retail sales this week are expected to grow by 10% over last year and by 12.2% versus to the same week in 2019. The National Retail Federation also has a rosy projection, expecting November and December retails sales to grow as much as 10.5% 

“There is considerable momentum heading into the holiday shopping season,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in an October statement. “Consumers are in a very favorable position going into the last few months of the year as income is rising and household balance sheets have never been stronger. Retailers are making significant investments in their supply chains and spending heavily to ensure they have products on their shelves to meet this time of exceptional consumer demand.”

And that's paid off for retailers like Reed, who said fall business at his stores has been "great." That momentum has carried over into the holiday season.

"We're 180 degrees from last year," he said. "And thanks to our loyal customers and a great staff, we finished with a small profit, which I didn't think would be possible in the summer."

That enabled the company to pay bonuses to employees, a move Reed said was a tradition that he was pleased to continue, despite the challenges the industry faced for most of the year.

Busy day expected

This year's holiday shopping season is 28 days, the same as last year but five days fewer than in 2019. While Black Friday is one of the busiest shopping days annually, the Saturday before Christmas has been earning that top spot in recent years. Still, many retailers think cash registers on websites will see plenty of activity the day after Thanksgiving.

Keri Taylor Horne said she "Primarily will be shopping at small businesses, and online for gifts that aren’t available locally"

Jeff Snyder, general manager of The Mall at Barnes Crossing, said the mall office will be closed on Thanksgiving, but a handful or tenants will be open. On Friday, the rest of the mall will open at 9 a.m., and he's optimistic.

"Black Friday is typically one of our busiest days of the year. We have seen customers beginning their holiday sales a few weeks in advance," Snyder said.

Historically, the mall has done well during shorter holiday seasons, Snyder said. Coupled with supply chain issues, shoppers are crossing off items from their Christmas lists early this year. 

"Good thing about shopping local – you get to leave the mall with your gifts in hand," Snyder said. "No concerns on time delivery time or delays."

Snyder said brick-and-mortar shopping is alive and well.

"We call it R-Commerce, or Real Commerce," he said. "Stores employ local employees and take pride in serving our local communities. You get to see, feel, try on the merchandise and take it home that day."

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