NEW YORK — October sales provided signs of hope for the upcoming holiday shopping season, but retailers are taking no chances.
October sales provided signs of hope for the upcoming holiday shopping season, but retailers are taking no chances.
Many launched Black Friday-type promotions in October or early November (some in July), rather than wait for the traditional start of the shopping season. The goal is to get on the radar of consumers still wary about the economy but apparently willing to spend when the merchandise and the price are right.
Sears Holdings Corp. began holding “Black Friday Now” sales events on October 29, and intends to run them every Friday and Saturday until Christmas. The company’s Sears and Kmart chains also encouraged its customers to activate their Christmas Club Cards early. The cards offer Sears and Kmart shoppers a way to set aside money for holiday shopping and thus avoid paying credit card interest or incurring debt, the company says, and customers who activated the cards before October 31 received a 3% award, up to a maximum of $100, on their balance as of November 15.
Walmart in early November sought to make its stores into destinations for toys and consumer electronics. On November 1 the retailer launched its list of Top Toys, as well as a 52-page toy catalog designed to help parents identify and buy the hottest toys of the season.
Walmart announced price rollbacks on many of the toys, and also vowed to match any price that appears in a print advertisement from a local competitor.
To get the attention of consumer electronics buyers, the retailer held what it billed as “The Amazing Walmart Electronics Event,” with deals that included a 32-inch Vizio flat screen television or a Compaq laptop for under $300.
"We know our customers are starting their holiday shopping now," commented Walmart U.S. senior vice president of entertainment Gary Severson, who called the sale, held on the first weekend in November, the "first of many holiday savings events around the hottest consumer electronics gifts."
Target Corp., which hosted an online Christmas shopping promotion in July, plans to get a head start on Black Friday with a pre-Thanksgiving sale that begins on Sunday, November 21.
Target too has a toy catalog, and it promises 50% savings on some of the top playthings. For those willing to fight the crowds on Black Friday morning, meanwhile, the retailer is offering $10 gift cards for future shopping trips to shoppers who spend $100 or more by 10 a.m.
Family Dollar Stores Inc. has its own toy catalog, with a wide range of $5 toys, and on October 14 the retailer launched its first Family Dollar Holiday Dream Dash Contest, in which consumers create a digital wish list on the retailer’s web site and submit an essay for a chance to win a holiday shopping spree at a Family Dollar store.
All the aggressive promotional activity comes amid signs of hope for the upcoming holiday season. A survey conducted for the National Retail Federation (NRF) found consumers in the United States planning to spend an average of $688.87 on holiday-related shopping this year. That is up slightly from last year’s $681.83, although still down from the $755.13 that was planned in 2007, just before the recession hit.
Total spending on gifts this year is expected to average $518.08, up 2.1% from last year. NRF expects that holiday sales will rise 2.3% this year.
"Consumers will still shop with the economy in the back of their minds, but we’re starting to see shoppers take baby steps toward a new normal," said NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay. "As Americans open up their wallets for more discretionary gifts like jewelry or take advantage of sales to buy for themselves, retailers will begin to truly believe that the worst may be behind them."
Other forecasts predict small sales increases this holiday season. Archstone Consulting is projecting a 1.5% increase in holiday spending in the United States this year, with a weak housing market, tight credit and high unemployment continuing to put a crimp in consumer confidence.
Deloitte LLP’s annual holiday survey found consumers keeping their spending intentions, despite the weak economy. Six of 10 shoppers plan to spend the same or more this year, which is the highest level since 2006.