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Retailers work to spur holiday sales
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• Be aware. Contact authorities or ask a store employee to walk you to your car if needed.

• Keep valuables hidden out of sight in your vehicle. This includes GPS, laptops, cell phones and purses, as well as packages recently purchased.

• When shopping, keep purses closed so that wallets are not easily snatched.

• Keep car doors locked.

• Be aware of strangers. This time of year thieves may try a variety of ways to distract you with the intention of taking money or belongings.

• Watch purchases while eating in mall food courts; bags can be easily switched or taken.

• Have your keys in hand when leaving the store.

• When in doubt call 911. Officers would rather respond and there be nothing wrong then have someone wait until a crime has occurred.

Source: Covington Police, Newton County Sheriff’s Office

Surveys show Americans are planning to buy more holiday gifts this year and local retailers are increasing advertising, including their use of social media, and offering aggressive deals in 2010 in an effort to make sure they don't get left behind.

Though many retailers have been promoting holiday deals for weeks, today, Black Friday, marks the beginning of the busiest part of the holiday season, and advertisements and sales are running rampant. Covington retailers hope their efforts turn into increased dollars in the pivotal fourth quarter.

"We're expecting good things. Purchases are up quite a bit over last year' we're expecting close to double-digit increases (during the holidays)," said Covington Kmart Manager Don Buckner, who had one of the most optimistic outlooks.

The National Retail Federation is projecting a 2.3 percent sales increase during November and December, the months that define the holiday shopping season, while the International Council of Shopping Centers is calling for a 3-3.5 percent increase. Those numbers would be a change from 2008 and 2009, which the retail labeled disastrous and ho-hum in a recent report.

Buckner said sales have been up in general in 2010, thanks to company-wide efforts to increase online sales and the introduction of keychain rewards cards, like the ones used by chain grocery stores. Customers who signed up for a card get a daily e-mail with a special deal, like a 22-inch TV for $95. Buckner said it’s a great way to keep the store constantly on the minds of its customers.

Mayfield Hardware Manager Kendra Mayfield said her two local stores have seen sales remain flat in 2010, with some slight decreases here and there, but she too is trying to keep her company in the forefront, by keeping the company’s Facebook regularly updated.

"We are trying to rely on more one-to-one advertising with Facebook and be more consistent with our frequency of advertising, with the idea that…we’re keeping our name in front of everyone," she said Wednesday.

Mayfield has rearranged its two stores, with the one on the square becoming more devoted to gifts, toys and housewares and the Newton Plaza location focusing on home and business repair and maintenance.

While consumers tend to be more focused on electronics deals during Black Friday, Mayfield is offering several good deals and will open at 7 a.m. Friday to capture as much of the crowd as possible, Mayfield said.

The Covington Wal-Mart has had a mixed sales bag in 2010, said Assistant Manager Latrail Plummer, but the store is expecting strong holiday sales. The store is beginning its Black Friday sales at midnight Thursday for its stocking stuffer type items, earlier than it ever has before. The deals for electronics and other higher-end merchandise will begin at 5 a.m., as usual.

Andrea Smith, owner of Square Perk on the square downtown, is hoping to piggyback off the earlier sales starting times by opening her café at midnight to offer "Coffee and Carbs," including a continental breakfast list.

Josephine Kelly, executive director of Main Street Covington, said the downtown businesses are offering new coupons and a frequent shopper program this year to spur shopping. If customers make 12 purchased in the downtown during the holidays they are entered into a drawing for $450 worth of Main Street bucks.

Many Newton County residents will be doing their holiday shopping outside of the county, and the Mall at Stonecrest in Rockdale County is ready for them, said Marketing Director Donald Bieler. The mall is offering doorbuster prizes and is extending its hours, opening at 6 a.m. Friday.

For mall stores in particular, the holiday season can be even more important, with 30 percent of their revenue coming between Black Friday and Jan. 1. While consumers are looking for customer service and convenience, price is still the most important consideration, Bieler said, and businesses will be offering some of their best deals this season.