Retailers banking on procrastinators

Dec. 23, 2011 at 2:12 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- The last days of shopping before Christmas are expected to feature discounts and extended shopping hours, several large U.S. retailers said.

Toys R Us is setting the pace by keeping its stores open nationwide around the clock in a retail version of survival, The Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

Macy's, J.C. Penney and Sears are also extending hours, staying open until midnight or later in some cases. Sears is also offering a buy-one, get-one-free bonanza on children's toys right up until it closes its doors for the holiday.

The holiday season, which accounts for about 18 percent of retail revenue for the year, began with a record-setting $11.4 billion in sales on Black Friday. But the enthusiasm did not hold and shopping was slower than expected for the next two weeks.

"At this point, we are focusing on all those procrastinating shoppers. We have a last-minute gift sale," said Brian Hanover, a spokesman at Kmart and Sears parent company Sears Holding Corp.

A survey of shoppers on Sunday found there are procrastinators out there. Nine percent indicated they had yet to start their holiday shopping. Thirty percent indicated they had not completed their buying for the holidays.

The implications are enormous.

"With the housing market in the doldrums, consumer spending, which is about 70 percent of the U.S. economy, has become ever more important to set the pace of the recovery," said economist Esmael Adibi at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.

In the meantime, with shopping opportunities shrinking from number of days left to number of hours left, "You are still seeing banners up advertising 50 percent off, but those are planned, and its 50 percent off select items and not the entire store," said Sherif Mityas, a partner at A.T. Kearney Inc., a consulting firm for retailers.

"We're seeing a normal rise in sales as people are struggling to finish" their shopping, said Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak.

And if all else fails, there's always after the fact.

"The 26th will be a telling day," Martin said. "If retailers are overburdened with inventory, if we see 65 percent or 75 percent off, that's an indication that the season didn't go as good as they hoped."

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