It's over. Strolling around December 26th we see the fortunate kids riding their new bikes, gleaming helmets featuring animal ears or dinosaur spikes, and oversized Messi t-shirts freshly unwrapped for Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa.
Retail sales from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 increased 3.1 percent from 2022, according to data from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment.
Looking back at the holidaze, here's a snapshot of scenes around Miami just before and just after Christmas. I took the consumer temperature from the perspective of retail workers, security guards, and shoppers from big-name stores in malls to independent shops.
The zeitgeist is anxious this year, what with conflict and wars abroad, mass shootings at home, and global warming everywhere, it's not surprising that I sensed stress in the air at Dolphin Mall in Sweetwater. Bankrate.com found that 54% of holiday shoppers expect to feel financially burdened this year. A retail sales associate at Levis witnessed a shopper crying, piles of clothes in disarray, customers "ripping through the piles and yelling at each other." The most common triggers for conflict? "Someone taking the last item of a particular size." This associate has also witnessed altercations in parking lots when one driver aces another for a coveted space.
Moving right along...
Four o’clock that afternoon. Tension is thick in Anthropologie in Shops at Merrick Park in Coral Gables. Only three registers are available for the line of 50 consumers waiting in line. By eight PM 20 customers are still waiting to make their purchases. A sales associate tells me that the most common customer complaints include no wrapping services, slow-moving lines, and no capacity to ring everyone up via phone. "Someone called us unprofessional because we use registers, not phones as ways to check out, and asked to speak to the manager. People also get mad that there aren't enough gift boxes, but we just run out this time of year."
How does she handle it? By being polite to customers and asking for the same courtesy in return.
Nine PM: Merrick Park’s L'Occitane en Provence is getting ready to close. The atmosphere seems calmer here; it might stem from the scent of verbena and lavender wafting through the small corner store. The sales associate at the counter reflects: "Everyone’s stressed, they come, they go, they come back, two, three times, before making a purchase."
This coming and going might not be such a bad idea. I ask a customer stuck in a line how she deals with stress. After thinking it over, this student from a college in Chicago says: "If you're feeling overwhelmed, take a break. You can leave your stuff and the store, or even the mall, and go back later when it's calmer."
Super Saturday 12/23
11:30 AM: I get an earlier start on what is heralded as the second busiest shopping day after Black Friday. Sephora at the packed Dadeland Mall is already heating up with a line of 30. I ask a frazzled-looking salesperson: What's flying off the shelves this holiday season?
Have shoppers been stressed? He says he’s seen customers "In line arguing. Last night someone got mad because a mom was holding a place for her daughter but it looked like cutting. I tell them politely. When in line, remember everyone is there for the same reason.” More body cream is needed. With a parting wink, he tells me it's okay not to send more people to Sephora by promoting it in this article at this exact moment...
Suniland Shopping Center in Pinecrest, a two-block cluster of shops and a post office, the stores have a neighborhood vibe.
Runners High "Your Family Footwear Store." About 20 people are shopping in a small sporting goods store. Penny, the rescue pup and store mascot, trots among the stacks of sneakers and is frequently petted. “Some people come just to see Penny," says Bryon Kibort. "I've owned this store for 24 years and been in this shopping center for 39.” A customer from abroad who always visits the store when he’s in the States says: "The prices are the same as in a big chain but the service is better and it's a unique place."
Photo by Samantha Phillips
A few doors away is another independent store, one of several Books & Books booksellers.
Founded by Mitch Kaplan – also co-founder of the acclaimed Miami Book Fair – this store stands out as a beacon of reading in a state where books are regularly banned. The atmosphere feels serene compared to the mall.
Sarah Paredes, a teenager working behind the counter, tells me: "Bookstores are inherently calm. There are good vibes here all the time. Customers are patient online and banter about book recommendations." Sarah grew up coming to the store and currently attends a local high school. The store is like a family, she says, then adds: "It's funny. I answered the phone, and it was my mom, ordering a bunch of $25 gift certificates.”
A co-worker mentions the comfy seating area and the ability to shop with your eyes. This makes the atmosphere calm even though she's busy with a lot of holiday tasks, from gift wrapping to offering personalized reading guidance. As I wait to buy my gift certificates, a friendly woman explains to me that she has a list of all of Florida's banned books and is going to buy them in triplicate here to give as presents. She also just bought 24 mugs online that say "I Read Banned Books" for her friends. My new acquaintance and I admire a t-shirt on the wall together: "fREADom.”
"Reading stops stupidity,” Sarah tells me in parting. Find your local Indie Bookstore here:
Photo by Samantha Phillips
Next up, a chat with the security officer at a busy Apple store on Lincoln Road in South Beach. He’s noticed that some shoppers look overwhelmed and the stress intensifies the closer they get to Christmas. "People get up against it, but that's not what this season is about. They shouldn't lose the significance of the holidays." How does he stay calm? Some of it’s spiritual, he says, along with the fact there aren't Christmas discounts at Apple – customers know the prices. They have to remain cool. One thing's for sure: this security officer is so chill he might have been born at the North Pole.
7:50 PM, ten minutes before this CVS closes an hour ahead of time. Looking for batteries, I watch a cluster of customers and two helpful salespeople. I'm surprised that the mood is so jovial. The salesperson immediately asks me if I need help to find the batteries. I ask what people have been buying, as CVS is one of the few stores (besides a liquor store and an IHOP) open at the Suniland in this area of Miami. “Shoppers are buying chocolate, gift cards, and wine." Everyone’s been really friendly. I know where I’ll be going for same-day gifts next year!
Perhaps it was the luck of the draw, but many of the lines at the Dadeland Mall were surprisingly calm.
At Merrick Park's J. Crew, the cashier tells me the biggest stress is people returning gifts without a receipt — and also without the email of the person who bought the present. "They don't know what to do, and this holds up the line."
The cashier at Alo seconds this. "We just expect lines this week through New Year’s, since people have to retrieve receipts and then come in for exchanges, discounts, and to use gift cards."
Breathe deep and keep your receipts.
When shopping, bear in mind there might not be enough items in your size, gift boxes, open registers, or gift-wrapping services.
Keep your cool: If we can spend 20 minutes looking for one gift, it's not reasonable to get mad about time when we can't pay immediately. Half the battle of seasonal shopping is mastering our impatience.
If you're still looking around, like the 50% of Americans including 51% of parents and 75% of people between 18 - 34 who postpone gift giving for themselves or others until after the holidays so they can take advantage of discounts (according to a survey from Best Buy). Here are some more personalized ideas: Experiences: Theater, music, dance, tickets, classes, trips…
• Help stop child hunger in the USA: NoKidHUNGRY
• Donate to Unicef (local or global options)
• Offer up baby or pet-sitting
• Write a poem, story, frame self-made art or a photo