Updated at 1:12 p.m., Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Retailers try to boost shopping with promotions
Associated PressCINCINNATI Retailers trying to brighten up what looks like a drab period for shopping are rolling out eye-catching packaging, celebrity tie-ins, and contests for everything from Hannah Montana tickets to an African safari.
Their challenge: to offset expected low shopper traffic over an extended holiday season by luring consumers into their stores and keeping them there long enough to pick up some extra gifts.
With many families on tight budgets and facing high gas prices, this year's holiday shopping traffic was already expected to be slow, and retailers also had an extra week in November because Thanksgiving fell Nov. 22. Although the Black Friday weekend immediately after Thanksgiving saw strong retail sales, industry reports show a lull since.
"Procrastination is a big factor at this point," said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak RCT Corp., saying the extra week and the weekend ahead just before Christmas, which falls on a Tuesday, adds to shopping delays. "It's sort of like a perfect storm for those who like to wait until the last minute."
Chicago-based ShopperTrak, which monitors sales at more than 50,000 retail outlets, reported Dec. 5 that sales for the week ended Dec. 1 declined 4.4 percent from the year-ago period, the largest year-over-year sales decline since March.
Total U.S. shopping traffic, or visits to stores by shoppers, for the same period fell 4.7 percent."I think the retailers have got to focus on their promotions to draw that traffic to them, create that sense of urgency," said Mike Brown, a retail strategist with Kurt Salmon Associates.
Once the customers are in, Brown said, stores try to spur unplanned buying with alluring merchandise displays or bargain items at store entrances, and incentives such as $10 gift cards for $50 purchases or coupons that can only be used on return visits in early December.
Retailers are also featuring celebrities and contests to bring out customers.
Target Corp.'s "Wow or Never" gift collection allowed customers to enter sweepstakes for prizes such as an African safari or a black Maserati. Buying an American Idol karaoke machine, for example, meant entry for a trip to the reality show's finale.
"This was new for this year," said spokeswoman Amy von Walter. Entries ended Dec. 3, but von Walter said Target wasn't releasing any figures on the promotion.
For Victoria's Secret, special promotions, packaging and small gift items for the holidays are meant to heat up what's been slow mall traffic for much of the year."I am conservatively optimistic," said Sharen J. Turney, chief executive of the Victoria's Secret business that's part of Columbus, Ohio-based Limited Brands Inc.
"There are a lot of things that we have done to prepare."
In the aftermath of the annual Victoria's Secret fashion show televised this week by CBS, there are more promotions this month featuring star models, such as "Supermodel PJ Parties" to highlight sleepwear. Stores are also offering small gift items such as key chains and luggage tags, and lingerie sets packaged in ice cream cone shapes and lollipop-resembling "panty pops."
"We've done a lot of cute little fun things," Turney said. Victoria's Secret also has an exclusive deal for the first retail sales of a greatest hits CD by the newly reunited Spice Girls.
Dillard's Inc., the Little Rock, Ark.-based department store chain, has been flexing its own girl power. Stores have been holding Hannah Montana lip-synch shows, offering fashion advice for girls buying clothes, wigs and accessories around the Disney Channel show starring teen-ager Miley Cyrus, and even chances in some stores to win hard-to-find concert tickets.
Cincinnati-based Macy's Inc. department stores have tie-ins with celebrities for just about any taste, from Donald Trump to Martha Stewart; from rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs to singer Gwen Stefani.
"You get their attention that way," said Macy's spokesman Jim Sluzewski."You come into the store because you want to buy a mattress and you look over at the girls department and you see Hannah Montana (clothing) and you say, 'My niece loves Hannah Montana.' And you go by housewares and you see that Martha Stewart (collection) and say isn't that interesting?"
So how are all the special efforts scoring? Too soon to tell, retailers say."This is a year when the whole holiday season needs to be looked at together," Sluzewski said. "We'll really have to wait until the end of the season."
"I still think the week leading into Christmas will tell the story," said ShopperTrak's Martin.
Some shoppers browsing one recent evening at the Tri-County Mall just north of Cincinnati said they were more interested in saving money than seeing stars.
"I'm behind on shopping this year," said Sidney Mathis. "My kids' wish list is getting more expensive and my budget is getting less ... My shopping is not necessarily tied into any glitz."
Lynn Hogan said she's been on the hunt for high-demand electronics such as Nintendo Wii game sets, but for the most part is biding her time, watching prices."I only buy on sales," she said.