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After the flood, ‘practical’ gifts expected to top Santa’s list

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By Chuck Crumbo
ccrumbo@scbiznews.com
Published Nov. 30, 2015

For thousands of Midlands families, a toaster might be the perfect Christmas gift this year. The same goes for socks, a flannel shirt and maybe a blanket.

In fact, “practical” could be the theme of most people’s shopping lists, says Marianne Bickle, chairwoman of the Department of Retailing at the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management.

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Bickle
That’s because many people are still reeling from heavy property losses they suffered when their homes were damaged and in some cases destroyed during the devastating floods that swept through the Midlands and South Carolina in early October.

“Unlike a fire where insurance covers much of your loss, many did not have flood insurance,” Bickle said. She added that in many cases FEMA grants and government loans may not cover the total loss of property and personal items.

“Before, the joke was ‘don’t get me a toaster,’ but now a toaster might be really nice to have,” Bickle said.

Although floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, 25% of flood losses occur in areas that are not part of flood zones, said Russ Dubisky, executive director of the S.C. Insurance News Service.

A final tally won’t be available for weeks, however several S.C. officials estimate the loss will run into the billions of dollars. The loss resulting from the floods appears to be extensive across the Midlands and South Carolina, according to the latest statistics provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA reported that through Sunday it had approved 23,537 applications for individual and household assistance for a total of $68.3 million.

The S.C. Emergency Management Division told a state Senate committee that 1,400 houses around the state had sustained damage exceeding $10,000 and another 30,000 residences had repair bills of less than $10,000.

Even those who did not suffer a loss in the flood may be leaning toward buying more practical gifts, seeing how others lost everything, Bickle said. “It puts things into perspective,” she said.

“I think this flood really did a number of what really is important,” Bickle said. “Many retailers are understanding the timing of when to promote and when to market. My belief is that in Columbia and South Carolina retailers are really being smart and being proactive and respectful on how to promote the season.”

To help some victims who’ve “lost everything” from cell phones to TVs, some retailers are offering special terms on credit purchases, Bickle noted.

Auto dealers have offered to help victims fill out the paperwork to make a claim on their vehicle, which would be covered by most auto policies, and purchase a replacement.

How the flooding impacts Christmas retail sales in the Midlands remains to be seen.

Across the country, the National Retail Federation reported that a survey found more than 151 million people said they shopped either in stores and/or online over the Thanksgiving weekend. That compares with 136 million surveyed in mid-November who said they planned to shop over the weekend.

Average spending per person totaled $299.60, with an average of $229.56 going toward gifts, the trade group added.

The biggest spenders where shoppers 25-34 years old who rang up an average Thanksgiving weekend tab of $425.08 with about 70% of it going toward gifts.

The trade group also noted that 77.6% of respondents to the post-Thanksgiving poll said they had at least started shopping.

“We recognize the Thanksgiving weekend shopping experience is much different than it used to be as just as many people want that unique, exclusive online deal as they do that in-store promotion,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the trade group. “It is clear that the age-old holiday tradition of heading out to stores with family and friends is now equally matched in the new tradition of looking online for holiday savings opportunities.

“Retail is in the middle of an incredible revolution and evolution. As a result, NRF evolved what we have traditionally done in terms of examining the holiday weekend shopper to reflect these changing times. As the shopping environment changes so too must our analysis of it,” Shay said.

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