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DBC: How digital is impacting holiday shopping season

Christmas trees are out, candy canes are on display and fake snow is afloat at local retailers as they prepare for the holiday shopping madness. 

Local businesses are still dependent on their brick-and-mortar sales, even as the National Retail Federation's holiday survey showed for the first time that more people plan to shop online than at any one kind of store. 

Richard Last, a retired University of North Texas professor who helped launch J.C. Penney Co.'s website, said a lot of companies realize they need an online presence. That doesn't mean the focus this year will solely be online. 

"Shopping online and in brick-and-mortar isn't mutually exclusive," he said of the NRF survey. "Sure [online] is the biggest, but that's not bigger than all brick-and-mortar. It's bigger than any single type of brick-and-mortar." 

Legacy department stores are working to make sure that when consumers are shopping online that they're on the store website and not on Amazon. This year, more retailers than ever have created mobile-specific applications to make it easier than ever to stay loyal while shopping online, Last said. 

"This year, at least 40 percent of shoppers will be using some kind of mobile device to reach retail companies," he said. "That's a big shift that's occurred in the past couple of years." 

Matt Ludemann, manager of Golden Triangle Mall, said stores like J.C. Penney and Macy's have an advantage over Amazon because shoppers can choose to pick up their goods in store and have a physical place to return things. 

"It's trying to balance between the two options like they did 30 years ago with catalog sales," Ludemann said. "While online shopping is convenient, not everyone wants to buy something without being able to see or feel the physical item."

For some smaller local stores, online is a steady component of business. 

At Palm Tree Boutique, most of the online sales from the robust digital store are from people who are relatively close to one of the store's brick-and-mortar locations, said co-owner Colin Grunewald. 

"The pick-up in store is big for our holiday online and in-store purchases," he said. "You go through online and pick up gifts, come in and pick it up. That's the best of both worlds for us, because we get the sale and we get them in the store again." 

Other downtown shops don't have the online capabilities that Palm Tree Boutique has, but are working to at least create a digital footprint to remind people to come and shop, said Julie Glover, the city's downtown development director. 

"This is something we as an industry have talked to people about for many years. You need to be on Facebook and social media and have a way for people to shop online," she said. "As time becomes more precious, it's so easy to sit at your computer and shop, but people need to remember they enjoy city services, and you need to support local business to pay your local sales tax."

Preparing for the holidays

Small businesses are in the midst of planning for Small Business Saturday and all of the other upcoming events this year. 

The city's economic development department is overseeing Small Business Saturday promotions and events, set for Saturday, Nov. 25. There will be five stations set up around Denton for people to show their receipts and be entered to win prizes for supporting local businesses: Denton Community Market, Discover Denton Welcome Center, Golden Triangle Mall, Unicorn Lake and the Fry Street district. 

Stores are preparing for the shopping holiday, and many already have their Christmas displays set up. Grunewald is making sure there's enough inventory at Palm Tree Boutique as holiday shopping kicks off. After Small Business Saturday, the store also sees a ton of traffic for Wassail Weekend and the Christmas tree lighting the first weekend of December. 

He anticipates that Kendra Scott jewelry, branded socks and tumblers for drinks will be some of Palm Tree's most popular gift items this season. Plus, shoppers can fill out a wish list and leave it with the store for their secret Santa or partner to pick from later. 

The NRF survey found that, on average, consumers predict they'll spend $967.13 — up 3.4 percent from last year's survey. Nationwide, they expect sales in November and December to be between $678.8 billion and $682 billion.

At Golden Triangle Mall, more retailers are bucking the trend of opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day, but the mall itself will be open Thursday evening at 6 p.m. as well as most of the stores, Ludemann said. 

Some tenants at the mall are changing up their plans for the holidays. J.C. Penney is bringing in toys this year, and clothing store Buckle is doing promotions for the first time that Ludemann can recall.

"We expect an increase in total sales for the season, and I think it will just happen over the entire shopping season — it won't be because of one day or one event," he said. 

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889.