By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Following a dismal March, Tristate retailers are counting on Easter weekend to kick-start the spring shopping season, which has been hurt by a soft economy and the war-related slowdown in shopping.
For some retailers, especially those that sell clothes, flowers, candy and toys, Easter is the second-most-important holiday shopping season after Christmas.
Fortunately for them, consumers seem to be willing to spend to celebrate the holiday.
According to The National Retail Federation - the nation's largest retail trade group - the 77.5 percent of consumers who plan to celebrate Easter this year will spend an average of $102.76 each, which is on par with Easter spending in previous years. By comparison, Christmas spending in 2002 averaged $648.85 a person, according to the retail group.
Easter accounts for 12 percent of the dollar volume for holiday flower sales, according to the Society of American Florists. More than 9.6 million lilies were sold for the 2001 holiday.
Americans are expected to spend $1.18 billion on candy, says the National Confectioners Association. Easter ranks second in candy sales after Halloween.
Easter is the fourth-most-popular holiday for sending greeting cards, according to the Greeting Card Association.
Sales of Easter decorations reached almost $440 million in 2001, according to the Unity Marketing "Gifts & Decorative Accents" Report.
More than 60 million chocolate bunnies and 15 billion jelly beans will be produced for Easter, according to the National Confectioners Association.
Source: The National Retail Federation
The poll results were based on a survey of 10,403 consumers conducted March 6-13 with a margin of error of plus or minus 0.1 percent.
"Festive meals, new clothes and visits from the Easter bunny will categorize this year's holiday much as it has in the past," Tracy Mullin, the retail federation's president and CEO, said.
Easter candy will be the most-purchased holiday item, with almost 80 percent of those celebrating Easter planning to buy candy.
Also, more than 70 percent of consumers plan to buy food for Easter, 64.7 percent will buy gifts, 63.3 percent will send a greeting card, and more than half of consumers celebrating Easter will buy clothing, according to the poll.
At Flowers by Nyla in West Chester, owner Nyla Kramer was busy Friday handling phone orders and the typical surge in foot traffic just before Easter.
"It's pretty much the same as it was last year,'' Kramer said. "You always get a lot of foot traffic a couple of days before (Easter), and a lot of people have been calling in.''
Similar scenes were played out Friday at stores and shopping malls across the Tristate.
A shift in the calendar moved the Easter shopping season into April this year, sucking sales out of March.
A good Easter would also continue the momentum of positive sales during the first half of April.
U.S. retail sales rose by 6.3 percent for the week ending April 12, compared to the same week in 2002, marking the second consecutive week of strong year-over-year growth and putting April on pace for an 8.7 percent increase over last year, according to ShopperTrak's National Retail Sales Estimate.
ShopperTrak is a Chicago-based company that tracks weekly retail sales based on U.S. Commerce Department data.
Experts warned, however, that the sales trend might be misleading.
"The latest retail report tells us two things,'' Michael Niemira, a retail economist and spokesman for ShopperTrak, said. "One, the 'Easter shift' is obscuring the true economic trend and will continue to do so next week as well. Secondly, when the data is filtered and the noise eliminated, the underlying retail trend still appears to be somewhat weak."
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