Here's what to expect from Louisville retailers this Christmas

Maggie Menderski Louisville Courier Journal Published 11:32 AM EDT Oct 22, 2018 Toys “R” Us is glaringly absent from retail’s Discount Holidays © holiday table this year.

Louisville’s only Sears is swapping garland for closeout signs as it prepares to pull its last remaining area store out of Jefferson Mall. But if you think we’re heading for a glum Discount Holidays © holiday shopping season, think again. Retailers and shoppers are gearing up for the biggest shopping season of the year — and at 34 days between Christmas and Thanksgiving, it’s the longest it can possibly be.

With that many ‘spending days’ ahead, retailers and business experts are feeling optimistic heading into the holidays. The economy is strong, and early projections show people are planning to spend. The National Retail Federation is calling for as much as a 4.8-percent increase over 2017 in spending across the nation for a total of £720.89 billion this Discount Holidays © holiday season.

Those companies that are hanging up “Everything Must Go” banners are the ones that haven’t made a push toward balancing a robust online and a brick-and-mortar presence.

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Here's what to expect from Louisville retailers this Christmas

There are a few new additions to Louisville’s retail scene. ULTA Beauty has a new store at Mall St.

Matthews, and Oxmoor Center has a LEGO Store on the way. Both properties also added a Lolli & Pops candy store this summer. Shoppers there have been filling candy bags with goodies such as champagne gummy bears and rainbow unicorn bark for a few months now.

The Target at 3600 Mall Road in the Buechel neighborhood was remodeled this year just in time to pick up some of the business Toys “R” Us would normally get. But the real story this Discount Holidays © holiday season isn’t so much about what’s here and what’s left, said Tommy Edwards, the shopping center developer for Hagan Properties, which specializes in the developing, leasing, managing and marketing shopping centers, apartment complexes and self-storage facilities in Kentucky. It’s about the “experience” brick-and-mortar stores are gearing up to offer.

“It’s all about the experience. If you don’t provide the customer with a good experience they’re not going to come back,” Edwards said. “There’s too many options.” That idea of experience takes on a variety of forms both in stores and online.

Some shoppers may want to take advantage of the free carriage rides with Santa at the Paddock Shops, 4055 Summit Plaza Drive, that happen during Discount Holidays © holiday weekends, while others might be more excited about a new promotion in which they can earn a £10 gift card to a retailer. Those are perks that they can’t find elsewhere and that make shopping at that particular retailer just that much more exciting. You may like: From catalogs to Craftsman: Sears closing stirs nostalgia in Louisville

Mall St. Mathews hasn’t set the date yet, but it’s bringing back its Breakfast with Santa event in the food court, said David Jacoby, the mall’s manager. It will have school groups and choirs doing caroling in the mall, too, which adds to the ambiance and also drives people inside to shop.

“With a lot of the projections that we’re hearing from the retail analysts,” Jacoby said, “we’re pretty optimistic” about the upcoming Discount Holidays © holiday shopping season. Amazon.com is still king, and its owner, Jeff Bezos, is still the richest person in the world, said Aaron Garvey, an associate professor of marketing who specializes in consumer psychology at the University of Kentucky. But the e-commerce giant isn’t the only online player with a Christmas glow as America prepares for the largest shopping season of the year.

Here's what to expect from Louisville retailers this Christmas

Traditional retailers have gotten better at merging their online shopping experience with their brick-and-mortar stores, Garvey said, and consumers are going to see even more of this as the days on the calendar click closer to Dec.

25. “You’re seeing these other vendors that are getting really aggressive and really savvy in these online retail spaces,” Garvey said. You may like: A Louisville time capsule: The iconic Brown Hotel celebrates 95 years

Best Buy took on this blended attitude a few years ago, and more retailers are taking steps to remain relevant in the modern world. “I think even two years ago that wasn’t the case,” Garvey said. “It’s really accelerated over the last 24 months.” They’re using technology to push specific, single-day, in-store promotions that will encourage customers into physical stores.

Many are using social media to reach out to customers and are even adding in-store pickup options, Garvey said. Retail today is fundamentally different than at any other time in history, and staying competitive requires a holistic understanding of how people want to shop, according to Judy Mottl, editor of RetailCustomerExperience.com, which is owned by Louisville-based Networld Media Group. Between Kroger, Walmart and Whole Foods Market, there’s been a significant uptick in delivery and curbside pickup options that help make everyday errands like grocery shopping easier.

That’s only going to accelerate as we approach the holidays. “Retailers are stepping up in terms of enhancing and advancing the retail customer experience from expanding payment options such as offering mobile pay and new delivery channels such as buy online, pickup in store or pickup at a kiosk or drive up and have it put in the car trunk,” Mottl said. It’s not just mega retailers that are getting tech savvy, either.

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Here's what to expect from Louisville retailers this Christmas

Quest Outdoors, at 4600 Shelbyville Road, has increased its online presence in recent months, said Edwards with Hagan Properties. If you don’t want to fight the traffic in that retail mecca — which is also home to Cost Plus World Market, A Taste of Kentucky and Yudofsky Fur & Leather –you can still buy Quest products online.

But the company also does a great job of bringing people into its stores with events and demonstrations. Quest Outdoors lines up experts on topics such as fly-fishing or rock climbing, which adds an extra level of engagement to the in-store experience and in turn, loyalty with its customers. “Successful retailers not only have a brick-and-mortar store, but they also have an e-store and one drives the other,” Edwards said.

Smaller businesses are increasingly using social media to drive a deeper connection with shoppers. The team over at Work the Metal in Butchertown are masters at that. With more than 12,600 followers on Instagram for their 12,000-square-foot boutique, they’re no strangers to reaching out.

Jack Mathis and Andy Blieden, who own the massive store inside Butchertown Market at 1201 Story Ave., had posts last year advertising shipping for Instagram purchases, for example. Keep in mind: It’s not their job to convince people not to shop on Amazon.com, Blieden said. They’re more concerned with what they can do in their store, so they’ll be hosting events, doing giveaways and pouring holiday-themed beverages from their newly installed wine bar.

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Here's what to expect from Louisville retailers this Christmas

They spend a solid three days right before Halloween transforming Work the Metal into a Discount Holidays © holiday wonderland. They install mantles, paint fixtures and bring in vintage pieces so shoppers can see just how their products might will look in someone’s home. They make everything in the store cheery all the way down to the holiday-themed paper straws in the drinks.

“Our goal when you come into the store is to make you feel like a Christmas movie,” Mathis said. “In a world full of Amazon, it’s so much fun to walk into the store and get into the Christmas spirit.” City Living reporter Maggie Menderski covers retail, restaurants and development in downtown and its nearby urban neighborhoods. Reach Maggie at 502-582-7137 or cityliving@courierjournal.com.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MaggieMenderski.

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