The holiday season is a businessman’s dream – unless that businessman’s customer base suddenly disappears.
Local shops are hunkering down against the cold this week, preparing for the mass exodus of IU students during finals and the subsequent decrease in sales.
Stores whose traffic is primarily students, particularly clothing and gift shops, notice a decrease in brick-and-mortar sales during finals week and beyond – something not usually considered when thinking of retail during the holiday season.
“Given the nature of college towns, everything slows way down in Bloomington when the students leave for breaks, which includes both sales and profits,” said Michael Mazor, president of clothing store Pitaya.
Despite the loss in student traffic, some stores enjoy an increase in gift sales for the holiday season. This is especially true of T.I.S. Bookstore.
“Parents and families shop with us and order online for holiday gifts,” said Tim Lloyd, general manager of T.I.S. Bookstore. “Students also are in during the end of the semester and shop IU gifts for their friends and families.”
Sarah Sater, manager of gift and clothing store Greetings, also said the holidays welcome an increase in local shoppers.
“As students leave Bloomington for holiday break, we see many more Bloomingtonians on Kirkwood enjoying the increased parking availability, while shopping local businesses for last minute holiday gifts,” she said.
Businesses with a strong online presence may also experience an increase in sales through the holidays.
“We have a number of members across the area that are doing not just local sales, but because of Facebook and social media they are able to reach people that have lived in Bloomington at one point and are no longer here,” said Jim Inman, director of marketing and communications at the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.
He said there is a demand for Bloomington-based goods that exists beyond the city limits.
“If anyone has ever visited Bloomington and they love it, then they can always come back, so to speak, virtually,” Inman said.
These increases in local traffic, however, do not negate the loss of the student market during the holidays, particularly for stores like Pitaya, whose customer base is largely IU-based.
“Most IU students tend to focus more on finals week and break during the holidays, which adversely affects the amount of traffic we see,” Mazor said.
To combat this, many businesses run sales to attract holiday shoppers.
“Students have commented over the years that it really helps them find holiday gifts for friends and family at a price their budget allows,” Sater said of Greetings’ holiday clearance rack.
Mazor said Pitaya’s sales method is to mark down items already on sale even further.
The sales team at T.I.S. is especially festive, running a 12 days of Christmas promotion from Dec. 11 to Dec. 23.