Some major local retailers are looking to bolster what they anticipate to be positive Christmas shopping season numbers with the annual rush to the stores to snag Boxing Day sales.
Two of Richmond's major shopping malls - Richmond Centre and Lansdowne Centre - are reporting rises in customer traffic from the middle to end of November through the early part of December.
Part of that is likely due to the increasing spill-over effect in Canada of Black Friday - one of the biggest retail shopping days south of the border on the Friday after the American Thanksgiving holiday, said Leslie Matheson, marketing director at Richmond Centre where customer traffic through the mall showed an increase dating back to last month.
Matheson said figures for December are still being gathered, but were expected to show a continued positive trend, especially leading up to the few remaining shopping days before Dec. 25.
"We are seeing the traffic build as people are shopping later and later into December," Matheson said. "While we don't exactly know why that is, we suspect it's due to shoppers waiting for deeper discounted prices."
Matheson said the upward trend since the economic downturn in 2008 has been steady with sales per square foot at the mall showing growth as the economy, and consumer confidence, has slowly rebounded.
Also enticing shoppers to the mall has been a traditional draw - visits with Santa Claus, which in one particular case showed some strong family ties.
"I was just speaking to Santa the other day who told me he had been visited by one family for the fourth year in a row," Matheson said, adding the family presented the jolly old elf with a Christmas card of pictures from the various visits as the family grew from one to two children. But it has also been the Richmond shoppers' hunger to sample some new mall food offerings that sparked an increase in visits.
Matheson said the early November opening of the mall's new Dining Terrace reinforced the notion that, "Richmond shoppers love to eat while they shop."
One retailer enjoying positive sales numbers at Richmond Centre is SportChek. Despite the current NHL labour dispute that has so far stalled the ice hockey season, and usual big volume sales of Vancouver Canucks jerseys, the Christmas shopping period for the sports outfitter has scored in other areas.
Store manager Ashley Baye said business has grown in ski and snowboard sales as people head to the slopes.
"In previous years we would have sold a lot of Canucks jerseys by this time," Baye said. "They are pretty popular presents for under the Christmas tree."
Helping give the store a push has been a combination of increased advertising exposure thanks to the chain's sale this summer to the company which also owns Canadian Tire, and Richmond Centre's commitment to marketing during the winter holidays.
"This mall has just been great at marketing itself at Christmas," Baye said, "probably the best I have ever seen."
Matheson said the fifth year of Richmond Centre's "Believe" campaign - which features roaming groups of elves handing out their trading cards, and regular School of Christmas sessions for youngsters - has shown good results in attracting young families to the mall.
Over at nearby Lansdowne Centre, marketing manager Bronwyn Bailey said customer traffic was up by one per cent, which may not sound like a lot, but given the slow rebound in the Canadian economy it is a good indication shoppers are willing to spend, she said.
"November was just awesome," Bailey said. "That one per cent increase is pretty substantial given the number of people who visit our mall."
Part of the strategy to entice customers through the doors of Lansdowne Centre has been an increased focus on making the shopping mall a community destination during the holiday season.
Bailey explained that hosting local elementary school choirs, a Holiday train ride, and photos with Santa which included special Wednesday nights for pets, have been big draws.
So was a free Nov. 24 performance by popular children's entertainer, and Richmond resident, Charlotte Diamond.
Bailey said that helped kick off the festive shopping season as a crowd packed the premises of the old Luxor Home Furnishing store that has been transformed into a seasonal theatre.
Bailey added the continued effect of the adjacent Canada Line SkyTrain station that opened in late 2009 has also helped year-round traffic through the mall.
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