By Barbara Burke
Special to The Malibu Times
According to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail forecast, sales nationwide are likely to increase between 3.5 percent and 4.6 percent in 2023 for the November-January timeframe. For context, RISnews, a retail industry organization that focuses on merchandising and supply chain issues, notes that last year, Deloitte forecasted an increase between 4 percent and 6 percent in holiday sales. RISnews notes that, although healthy employment and income growth will keep the volume of sales growing for 2023’s holiday season, inflation has moderated and both credit card debt and interest rates have increased appreciably, factors that all contribute to predictions that this year’s holiday retail sales will grow more slowly.
Deloitte also forecasts e-commerce sales to grow between 10.3 percent to 12.8 percent year-over-year for the holiday season. If true, e-commerce holiday sales will reach between $278 billion to $284 billion nationwide. According to Bain & Company’s projections, unadjusted seasonal sales are expected to grow 3 percent year-over-year in November and December, reaching nearly $915 billion, with an astounding 90 percent of the growth coming from non-store (e-commerce and mail order) sales.
So, local retailers wonder what to do. How, they ask themselves, do we get customers into our brick-and-mortar stores in Malibu? Offer significant discounts for Black Friday? Sponsor events? Offer sales?
“We’re in the process of planning holiday events at Malibu Country Mart,” said Mike Feigen, director of marketing at the shopping center, noting that the retailers are delighted to participate and they hope doing so generates increased customer flow and sales. “If our temporary use permits are approved by the city, we will host Santa and, of course, Mrs. Claus from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 3, and Saturday, Dec. 16, and on Wednesday, Dec. 13, from 4 to 7 p.m.”
Steve Soboroff, manager of The Park at Cross Creek, agrees that events are one vehicle retailers employ for increasing local sales and traffic.
“We celebrate our local merchants,” he said. “A few weeks ago, Sorenity Rocks had an enormously successful event and soon, Sushi by Howdy’s will have a grand opening akin to what we just celebrated for the opening of Prince Street Pizza and Irv’s Burgers, an event that attracted 1,000 people.”
Down at the Pier, local restaurateur Helene Henderson’s Malibu Farm is, as it does every year, doing all it can to increase traffic on and near the Pier during the slow months in Malibu. Malibu Farm will offer events celebrating the various upcoming holidays, including, for the first time, Dia De Los Muertas. To see the event schedule, Google here: https://mailchi.mp/malibu-farm.com/holiday-season-calendar-2023?e=9f951214ae.
Other local vendors are focusing on easing shoppers’ holiday stress. Malibu’s only bookstore, Malibu Village Books, offers gift wrapping and shipping services, making mailing gifts to others user-friendly, while Malibu Lumber Yard offers customers a chance to chill during the hectic holiday season. “Our ping pong table is great,” said Danielle Erickson, James Perse’s store manager. “We’ve seen an increase in customers just wanting to relax and play a few games.”
Local gallerist and artist Eamon Harrington has a welcoming, “come in and look around vibe,” in his creative space that immediately puts customers at ease. He’s also hosting an event soon featuring Keegan Gibbs, a Malibuite who is spearheading a movement to harden homes for wildfires and who is working on a documentary about the history and ferocity of wildfires.
In Malibu, local successful businesses thrive by responding to the needs of locals.
Malibu small businessman Gene Arnold, proprietor of Vitamin Barn, offers another strategy, arguing both locals and out-of-towners have an additional reason to shop in Malibu.
“Malibu provides an excellent alternative to many of the other retail areas in greater Los Angeles,” he said. “For example, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and the Valley no longer provide a safe-feeling shopping experience. It’s time for the City or the Chamber of Commerce to promote Malibu’s safe shopping.”
Soboroff agrees, bemoaning the escalation in smash-and-grab robberies that imperil retailers as well as shoppers. For its part, Malibu has only suffered one such event when, in June 2022, when a band of thieves broke into Maxfield Malibu and stole a significant amount of very valuable merchandise. Nevertheless, Arnold and Soboroff maintain that, comparatively speaking, Malibu offers a safe shopping experience.
“If a person cannot shop safely in Malibu, then he can’t shop safely anywhere,” Soboroff opined. “It’s very convenient to shop in Malibu closer to home.”
Soboroff added, “Of course, it’s possible to save money by shopping on the internet, but it can be harmful to your neighbors who own local businesses and employ local people.”
A point well taken that doesn’t address another concern — if sales tax revenues are down, almost inevitably, the local government’s ability to provide local services may be negatively affected.
Many Malibu businesses quite literally depend on local customers for their survival, a point many have made to this author over the years. Indeed, one local retailer who did not want to be identified said this past week that if her business’ seasonal sales are not successful, she may shutter her store.
A tale often told and experienced in Malibu. Businesses often come and go in this town. For those local businesses desiring to not tell that tale, attention to detail, building trust with customers and working to provide quality products and excellent customer service are the elements of a recipe for success, according to all those interviewed for this article as well as many of the proprietors of many of local businesses that are still standing despite the Woolsey Fire and the COVID pandemic.