Deals lure late holiday shoppers
Discounts help retailers snag last-minute sales
Max Jarman / The Arizona Republic
The deep discounts, extended store hours and shipping deals that drew record crowds on Black Friday and Cyber Monday have helped make the 2011 holiday shopping season much brighter than expected for retailers. As the clock ticks down toward the finish, they are hoping that the same tactics will send the 2011 holiday shopping season out with a bang.
The Black Friday-like deals in the final days before Christmas help retailers to snare last-minute revenue and move out holiday merchandise before the first of the year.
But the late-season deals, which used to be reserved for after-Christmas sales, may be encouraging people to put off shopping until the last minute.
On Thursday, Randi Karry of Phoenix still had the majority of her holiday shopping ahead of her. She’s been waiting for the best prices, and it’s paid off.
“Eighty percent off, that’s pretty good,” she said pointing to a window poster at the New York & Co. in downtown Phoenix.
Jeff Green, a retail feasibility analyst based in Phoenix, said that this season, everyday discounts are not enough.
“They have to be deep discounts,” he said.
Retailers also offered expanded hours as holiday deadlines loomed. Toys “R” Us locations are operating around the clock until Christmas Eve; Phoenix-area Macy’s stores are observing extended hours from 7 a.m. to midnight through today; and Target is staying open until 11 p.m., also through today.
For serious procrastinators, Walgreens drugstores are open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with deals on presents, gift wrap and party supplies.
Online retailers, too, have joined the last-minute stampede of sales.
Online retailer Sierra Trading Post offered discounts of 60 percent to 90 percent on Wednesday, plus free two-day air shipping on orders on more than $100.
Toys “R” Us online offered many of its top toys and gifts at 50 percent off Tuesday and Wednesday with free pickup at its stores and free shipping for orders of $75 or more.
Overstock.com offered a 50 percent off coupon Dec. 17 through flash-sale site Google Offers.
Kohl’s offered $10 in store cash for every $50 spent and discounts of 15 percent to 30 percent on all purchases made with a Kohl’s credit card.
And in anticipation that every gift won’t be exactly what the recipient wanted, an increasing number of stores, such as Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, are offering free shipping on returns.
“This year, the last-minute sales started in October,” said Brian Levine of Phoenix. He bought his girlfriend a Kindle on Amazon.com and was particularly drawn to the free shipping on returns.
“Online shopping is getting pretty nice,” he said.
Green said that the weak economy has forced retailers to get much better at merchandising their products and managing their inventories.
“Nobody wants to go into the new year with loads of seasonal inventory on their shelves,” he said.
Midway through December, the National Retail Federation revised its holiday-spending forecast upward, to $470 billion from $465 billion. The federation projects the trade association for retailers based its upgrade on better-than-expected November sales that came in 4.5 percent ahead of last year and surveys that the average American had completed far less of their holiday shopping than in previous years.
As of the second week in December, an NRF survey found that Americans had completed only 46.5 percent of their shopping, compared with 49.5 percent last year.
Matthew Shay, federation president and CEO, read that as an indication that many shoppers bought for themselves in November and still had “plenty of holiday shopping left to do.”
Waiting until the last minute could bring unexpected deals, but there’s also uncertainty about what will be in stock.
Green said that on Black Friday, the discounts are on everything, but during the last week of the season, they tend to be on whatever is left and on merchandise that retailers are eager to get rid of.
“The selection is much more limited,” he said.