Retailers hit holiday homestretch in frenzy
By Theresa Howard
|New Yorkers navigated the sidewalks of Rockefeller Center during holiday shopping Sunday. As the days toward Christmas count down, merchants are slashing prices and offering deeper discounts to drive up sales.
Early sales got people into stores, but shoppers are sticking to their budgets. Now, retailers are trying for a big finish with discounts on the discounts, marathon hours and for e-tailers guaranteed Christmas delivery.
"It's panic time for a lot of them, and it's unfortunate," says Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte & Touche. The consultancy released its latest holiday shopping survey yesterday. The poll of shoppers, taken Dec. 7-13, found that 80 percent still plan to stay in their budgets (an estimated average of $800), the same as before Thanksgiving.
Thus, the final stretch of the shopping season will be uphill for retailers who have battled the economy, layoffs and warm weather as much as one another.
Earlier, retailers said they hoped that the big price cuts would make up in volume what they cost in margin.
So far, though, the season is trending flat to up about 1 percent from last year. Check authorizer Tele-Check found same-store sales up 1.8 percent for the first 24 days of the holiday shopping season. Among retailer responses:
- Unable to close the Gap. Gap started the holiday season with same-store sales down 25 percent for November compared with a year earlier. Now, it's trying to clear inventory with up to 60 percent off. It has cut prices on about 543 items, triple the number of items discounted last year.
- Coupons by the hour. Macy's begins four-hour specials today and Wednesday.
- Moonlight specials. From Thursday at 6 a.m. through Christmas Eve, Kmart stores will be open 110 consecutive hours.
Deloitte & Touche says 50 percent of women had at least 75 percent of their shopping done by Dec. 14, compared with 40 percent of men. "As the shopping season winds down, retailers' best bet could be to target the male shoppers," says Tara Weiner of Deloitte & Touche.
And there's still Christmas Eve. The International Council on Shopping Centers says the extra day after the weekend could account for 5 percent of holiday sales.