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Mass. malls see 'huge increase in foot traffic' as holiday shopping begins

A shopper passed a Macy's store holiday window in Downtown Crossing in Boston in December 2020. (Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A shopper passed a Macy's store holiday window in Downtown Crossing in Boston in December 2020. (Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Brick-and-mortar retailers say the holiday shopping season is off to a strong start in Massachusetts.

Many residents stuck to online shopping last year as a safe and convenient way to check off wish lists. But with more than two-thirds of the state vaccinated this year, most feel free to peruse the aisles in person again.

Filling a cart in person also has an another advantage: It's the only way to ensure supply-chain woes and shipping delays won't leave stockings empty.

"Physical shopping is sort of simplifying people's experience, and I also think it's instant gratification, for sure," said Carina Donoso, senior director of retail experience and incubation at WS Development, which owns more than 40 outdoor shopping centers in Massachusetts. "We are, without doubt, seeing a huge increase in foot traffic over 2019, pre-pandemic."

In addition, some shoppers have a little extra to spend this year, thanks to stimulus checks and extra savings at the height of the pandemic, when people stayed home instead of traveling or eating out.

The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, has long represented the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. But in reality, many shoppers start far earlier. Some retailers like Target and Amazon began their sales in October this year.

Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org in Somerville, predicts many popular items, such as video game consoles, could be more expensive this year or difficult to find in the stores.

"Prices are higher. Quantities are limited," he said.

The holiday season traditionally extends well past Christmas, as many people flock to stores to make returns or spend gift cards. Dworsky noted that many stores have extended their return policies well into January.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said the holiday season typically accounts for about 20% of retail sales. But it's even higher at stores that sell clothing, jewelry and toys.

Overall, Hurst expects retail sales this season to rise 6% in the state compared to last year — with even larger increases at brick and mortar stores. Still, the increase trails its forecast for 2020, when it predicted a 9% rise. And the National Retail Federation has projected an even bigger rise nationally — 8.5% to 10.5% boost in sales.

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Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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Fausto Menard is producer of WBUR's Weekend Edition and news writer for All Things Considered.

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