Retailers Begin Wooing Holiday Shoppers While It’s Still Summer

The Micro Center store in Madison Heights, Mich., was jammed on Black Friday in 2013. “The consumer today is just fanatical about saving money,” said retail analyst Britt Beemer. “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.” (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
The Micro Center store in Madison Heights, Mich., was jammed on Black Friday in 2013. “The consumer today is just fanatical about saving money,” said retail analyst Britt Beemer. “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.”
(Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)

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, also known as Black Friday and the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

This year, stores will have to do more.

LET THE WOOING BEGIN

Already Kmart is wooing shoppers with no-down-payment layaway on contracts started by next 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, 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 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.

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% of shoppers make an additional purchase when they go to a store to pick up an online order.

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SOURCE: USA Today / Detroit Free Press – Georgea Kovanis