Shelves are stuffed to the hilt with toy trucks, baby dolls and science kits at the TreeHouse toy store on Elmwood Avenue. Owner Gaetana Schueckler stacked extra rolls of receipt tape near the cash registers, bulked up the usual amount of caramel popcorn she puts out for customers to snack on, and stuffed the gift wrap station with as much paper, ribbon, tape and cellophane it can hold.
All seven of the store’s employees will work full and bustling shifts Saturday, and two former employees will come in to lend an extra hand.
“For 18 years, it has been the busiest day of the year for us,” Schueckler said. “It doesn’t matter what day Christmas falls on.”
Forget Black Friday. For stores big and small, the busiest shopping day of the year is Super Saturday, the last Saturday before Christmas.
Known as “Panic Saturday” in certain retail circles, it’s the day last-minute shoppers hit the stores en masse to cross the final items off their Christmas lists.
This year, Super Saturday is expected to see the heaviest consumer traffic and the highest sales of any single day in all of 2014, according to data from ShopperTrak, a consumer analyst firm.
To prepare for the big day, stores have deepened inventory, maxed out staff, extended hours and planned door-busters, discounts and other promotions.
Despite a record-breaking year for online shopping and a drop in brick-and-mortar shopping overall, Super Saturday traffic is expected to be as robust as ever. With shipping deadlines coming down to the wire, customers are forced into stores to find the things they need.
But the same thing that thinned Black Friday crowds this year could also put a damper on Super Saturday. Early promotions that stretched out holiday shopping put many people ahead of schedule. About 4 percent more shoppers are finished shopping than were at this time last year, meaning that those consumers could spend the day wrapping gifts and relaxing with family instead of hitting the stores.
Like most big-box retailers, Best Buy is betting on a big day. All 127 employees at the Amherst location will be on hand Saturday, keeping the registers ringing and the products moving. Stores will be open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and employees will work even longer than that, unloading additional truck shipments and stocking shelves after the store closes.
A big part of Best Buy’s “velocity” strategy of streamlining and expediting customer transactions is to make the most sought-after items easily accessible. Shoulder-high stacks of flat-screen TVs and wireless speakers are clustered around the entrance doors, making them the first thing shoppers see as they walk into the store.
“People know what they want. It’s a couple days before Christmas,” said Tim Lundberg, the store’s general manager. “With the traffic being what it is, we have to make sure people can just come in and grab what they need.”
Pegboards are filled with Fitbit fitness trackers, GoPro cameras and Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. Each of those hot items are restocked at least every two hours throughout the day. On a typical day outside the holiday shopping season, they would be restocked just once at night.
That’s because empty shelves – even if they’re vacant for just a few minutes – could cost the store sales. Despite the increased staffing, employees will be busy and shoppers may not feel like waiting to track down a worker to ask about a missing product if they find an empty shelf.
“If I don’t have them stocked and a customer comes in and doesn’t see them, they’ll think ‘Oh, they’re out of stock’ and just leave the store without them,” Lundberg said. “It’s a constant effort to keep products on the shelves.”
Along with added cashiers working more checkout lanes, staffing at the customer service desk has been beefed up, too.
As shipping deadlines loom, more and more customers are ordering merchandise online and having it shipped to stores. Best Buy has added an in-store pickup lane to the customer service desk so last-minute shoppers can get in and get out quickly, without waiting behind other customers making returns or taking care of other time-consuming customer service issues.
“The closer we get to Christmas, it’s getting to the point where people have to come in – they have no choice,” Lundberg said.
This year’s Super Saturday is better-timed than last year’s, falling a full five days before Christmas. With Christmas on a Thursday as opposed to last year’s Wednesday, it gives retailers an extra day to fulfill orders before Christmas.
“That really means one extra day of shopping between Super Saturday and Christmas, which is good for the retailers,” said Mark LoCastro, a spokesman for consumer website DealNews.com.
That extra shipping day could slow Super Saturday traffic just a bit, but consumers burned by late-arriving packages last year might not want to push their luck.
The bigger threat to Super Saturday sales could be the drawn-out nature of this year’s holiday shopping season. Earlier promotions motivated people to begin (and finish) shopping sooner this year, so some shoppers will have no reason to brave the crowds.
That’s why retailers are expected to offer blowout sales, deep discounts and other promotions in a last-gasp effort to get rid of leftover inventory and capture whatever dollars consumers have yet to spend. And with lower gasoline prices, shoppers have more of that unspent money than in years past.
“Even customers that thought they were done will not be able to resist snatching up the bargains,” said Russ Fulton, general manager of Eastern Hills Mall and a 36-year retail veteran. “When the weather is nice and those email blasts are hitting your inbox, shoppers can’t resist running to the mall and taking advantage.”