Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stores Run Holiday Sales Promotions Even Earlier; Right or Wrong, Shoppers Can at Least Expect Deeper Discounts Starting This Week Instead of at the End of the Season

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stores Run Holiday Sales Promotions Even Earlier; Right or Wrong, Shoppers Can at Least Expect Deeper Discounts Starting This Week Instead of at the End of the Season

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRISTOPHER CALNAN

It's supposed to be a season marked by joy and good cheer. But retail industry analysts are mostly doom and gloom with their holiday shopping projections.

Sales predictions vary, yet most experts say consumers will be hesitant to spend this season because of higher energy costs and factors such as uncertainty about the national economy. To counter the complacency, retailers plan to run more sales promotions earlier in the season than normal.

Some analysts say it's a smart move to get shoppers' attention, because retailers rely heavily upon holiday sales, accounting for up to 40 percent of annual sales in some cases.

But at least one expert says it's counter productive and destroys the excitement of the season that usually translates into more spending.

Right or wrong, holiday shoppers can expect deeper discounts starting this week instead of toward the end of the season.

National Retail Federation spokesman Scott Krugman and other industry observers said the early discounts won't be at the high-end stores. Those customers typically aren't worried about gasoline prices and rising home heating costs.

But consumers who shop at the mid-level department stores and discounters do worry about such things, so those retailers are ready to entice their core customers with early sales. "Consumers are going to get a great deal at the front end," Krugman said.

The NRF projects a 5 percent increase in holiday (November and December) retail sales compared with last year, which was 6.7 percent higher than the previous year. Retailers aren't panicking, but they'll hedge their bets anyway, Krugman said.

"There is still going to be money spent," he said. "With that said, don't think retailers are going to take chances. They're going to give shoppers a lot of incentives to get out this year."

The fourth quarter of the year is crucial to the stores. Last year, retailers produced more than 19 percent of their annual sales during November and December, according to both the NRF and the International Council of Shopping Centers.

That amount of business in just two months drives the annual guessing game retailers do to anticipate spending levels and patterns, said Bart Weitz, director of the University of Florida's Center for Retailing Education.

"They don't want to be left with a lot of merchandise at the end of the shopping season," he said. …

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