Mixed bag for AAFES: Holiday sales soar in Pacific but slump in Europe
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Neither the economic downturn in the U.S. nor the nasty winter weather could put a damper on holiday season sales at Army and Air Force Exchange Service exchanges in the Pacific. But the news wasn’t as good in Europe.
AAFES reported that holiday sales in the Pacific increased by 9 percent in late 2009 from about $55.5 million in 2008 to $60.5 million, but sales in Europe declined by 5 percent from $58.2 million in 2008 to $55 million in 2009.
Overall, AAFES’ total sales this holiday season increased by 2 percent to about $398 million.
“I think it exceeded our expectations by a little bit,” Army Maj. Gen. Keith Thurgood, AAFES commander, said in a telephone interview. “We are very happy.”
In comparison to AAFES’ numbers, retail sales in the States increased by 3.6 percent over the year before, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Thurgood credited good planning and the ability to get customers out-of-stock items quicker than in the past to making it a jolly season for AAFES. Additionally, customers like to shop at AAFES to get a slice of “Americana,” he said.
Late shoppers also contributed to AAFES’ success: People shopping for those last-minute Christmas gifts caused AAFES’ sales to rise by 9 percent from Dec. 20-26.
Despite having job security in comparison to in the States — where unemployment hovers at 10 percent — not everyone in the military was in the spending mood this holiday season.
Army Capt. Daniel Yourk said a reason he cut back is because of the exchange rate between the euro and dollar. The exchange rate declined by 17 percent since last year.
Sgt. 1st Class Tanya Sizemore said she spent less in 2009 than in previous years because of the economy.
“I’m saving to go to the States,” Sizemore said. “There’s not a variety (for shopping) like in the States.”
According to AAFES, the biggest sellers this season were electronics, jewelry and video game consoles — especially the Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3. Visa gift cards ranging from $25 to $100 also went like hot cakes.
“Normally, this is a time of year when electronics are big and we knew that was going to happen,” Thurgood said.
Holiday sales at the new Kaiserslautern Military Community Center — a mall with the largest exchange in the world — at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, gave AAFES a nice boost.
AAFES reported that KMCC Black Friday sales of $1.7 million bettered its grand-opening sales in September by about $500,000. The exchange was on pace for $18.5 million in sales in December, which is a 24 percent increase from the five facilities it replaced in the Kaiserslautern region.
“The KMCC is exceeding all expectations across the board,” Thurgood said. “The store is outperforming our wildest dreams.”
Thurgood said the challenge will be maintaining the holiday sales momentum, but AAFES isn’t as dependent as other retailers are on year-end sales.
In 2008, the holiday season accounted for only 13.3 percent of AAFES’ sales, officials said. The National Retail Federation reported that holiday sales account for 20 percent to 35 percent of retailers’ business.
Navy Exchange officials could not be reached for comment.