Retailers already wooing holiday shoppers

Even though it’s still summer and Christmas is more than three months away, retailers – worried by dismal second-quarter earnings and desperate to attract shoppers – are gearing up for a holiday season expected to feature bigger and better promotions and sales than last year.

Which, of course, could be very good news for increasingly bargain-oriented shoppers.

“The consumer today is just fanatical about saving money,” said Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, a consumer behavior and retail strategy firm. “I think you’re going to see more retailers jump into the sale strategy. I think they’re going to be more aggressive and you may see bigger discounts earlier.”

Simply put, said Michael Bernacchi, a University of Detroit Mercy marketing professor: “You can’t have profit if you don’t have shoppers in the stores. You have to draw clientele. You have to get them online and get them in line. You have to get them.”

Last year that meant a new shopping landscape, with almost two months of holiday sales. Wal-Mart started the season Nov. 1 when it sold items it had been saving for Black Friday (including a $49 tablet computer and a $229 42-inch TV). And for the first time ever, almost every big box and mall store opened for business Thanksgiving night instead of waiting for early Friday morning, also known as Black Friday and the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

This year, stores will have to do more.


Already Kmart is wooing shoppers with no-down-payment layaway on contracts started by Saturday. And earlier this month Kmart got conversations started by airing its first holiday commercial – a clever, tongue-in-cheek ditty that promoted the store’s layaway program and swore it wasn’t a Christmas commercial. On social media, consumers either loved it or hated it.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is pledging to keep all front-of-the-store checkout lanes open during peak shopping hours on weekends, starting the Saturday after Thanksgiving and continuing until the weekend before Christmas. (All lanes are usually open on Black Friday, Wal-Mart said.)

Wal-Mart has also boosted its media strategy. For the first time ever, the retailer invited gift guide editors to a special event in June that showcased its top holiday offerings, according to published reports. Last week it presented the news media with its list of top toys for the holiday season.

Target has expanded its hours at about half its stores, keeping some open until midnight, in an attempt to make inroads with late-night shoppers. The extended hours are expected to stay in place through the holiday season. Last week, Target announced it would team up with TOMS, maker of hip canvas shoes with a conscience, for a holiday collection that is to benefit several charities.

And Toys R Us has added online layaway to its payment options. It has also revamped its rewards program, allowing shoppers to earn $5 back for every $125 they spend.

Stores everywhere are expected to push the idea of shopping online and picking up items in stores. Picking up in-store often means a shopper gets the merchandise more quickly than having to wait for mail.

But picking up in-store also cuts down on a retailer’s shipping costs. And according to a survey by comScore, a consultant firm that tracks how people use the Internet, 43 percent of shoppers make an additional purchase when they go to a store to pick up an online order.


While some consumers may grumble about the holiday shopping season starting so early retailers are eager to win the hearts and minds of shoppers.

“Retailers are competing to get into the consumer mindset. They want them to spend money. They want them to shop,” said Mark LoCastro, spokesman for DealNews, a website that tracks discounts and studies sale trends.

“They do this by getting to them early with marketing messages. They are incentivizing as much as possible. They know their time is extremely limited.”

Added Bernacchi: “The idea here is to be on top of it, to cause alertness, awareness. That presence in the mind, that presence in the emotions makes a difference if you can be considered early in the game.”

This year, being top of mind is especially important because retailers are struggling to make up for disappointing second-quarter earnings.

At Target, second-quarter earnings dropped 62 percent from those reported the previous year. Analysts blame the drop on the store’s troubled expansion in Canada and continuing fallout from last year’s data security breech.

In its second-quarter earnings report, Wal-Mart’s sales marked the sixth straight period of no growth at U.S. stores open at least a year.

Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart stores, lost almost $1 billion in the first six months of the year, according to reports.

“Retailers are going to do everything in their power to create excitement and to create checkout, they want you to check out,” said LoCastro, who expects 60-inch televisions to go on sale for as low as $420 and unprecedented deals on computers.

“A smart shopper will benefit,” he said. “A bargain hunter will benefit.”

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