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Lackluster sales in this holiday season have retailers scrambling to wring a few last dollars from procrastinators by slashing prices, extending hours and wooing customers more persistently than last year.
The moves show that retailers' strategy during this final weekend before Christmas — when about 10% of holiday sales are expected to take place — has become increasingly reliant on the same promotions and marathon hours once unique to the "Black Friday" weekend following Thanksgiving. But the discounts also reveal the pinch stores are in this year as the credit crunch, rising gas prices and winter storms have taken a toll on companies dependent on end-of-year sales.
The tough economy has left aisles more empty this year. Total foot traffic at U.S. Retail outlets took an 8.9% dive during the second full week of December, compared with the same period last year, according to an estimate from ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which bases its numbers on a formula that involves an electronic count of shoppers in malls and other retail outlets nationwide.
A bright spot, however, has been online, where aggressive discounting and cut-rate deals on fast shipping have contributed to a surge in spending. From Nov. 1 to Dec. 16, online shoppers spent $23.5 billion, 19% higher than the corresponding days last year, according to comScore Inc., a Reston, Va., market research firm that tracks Web spending and traffic. Videogames, consoles and accessories are the fastest-growing category, more than doubling from the comparable period last year. Furniture, appliances and equipment ranks second, up 63%, while event tickets and consumer electronics are up 29% and 24%, respectively.
Now, a final push is on, both online and in stores. Web retailers continued to hunt for business by cutting shipping charges to seal deals before the pre-Christmas shipping window closes. Shoebuy.com, a Boston-based unit of IAC/InterActive Corp. Offered free express shipping until today. Online handbag merchant eBags upgraded purchases made by Wednesday from standard shipping to two-day air-shipping through UPS for no extra cost.
Brick-and-mortar stores, meanwhile, retooled their hours for the weekend, hoping to spark their own shopping flurry. J.C. Penney Co. Stores are staying open until midnight tonight and Saturday. Select Macy's Inc. Stores on the East Coast will stay open nonstop throughout the weekend — 107 hours straight for one branch in Queens. And New York-based FAO Schwarz made discounts of 25% to 50% on certain toys. Ed Schmults, the chief executive officer at FAO Schwarz, said that while foot traffic was up, business had not been as booming throughout the season as he hoped.
The National Retail Federation, a trade group, is predicting just 4% in sales growth for 2007, the smallest growth rate in five years. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, paints an even grimmer picture: He lowered his forecast of 2% retail sales growth to 1.8%, his lowest forecast in nearly 10 years.
In the apparel category, men's clothing has showed modest single-digit growth through the first 20 days of the shopping season, according to MasterCard Spending Pulse, a unit of MasterCard Advisors, which tracks spending of all types. But women's apparel — which last year constituted three times the sales of men's — has been a major disappointment, as shoppers have avoided big purchases. Sales were down 5.7% from the same time last year.
Retailers have responded with a flurry of price cuts, but large inventory remains in some stores. One of Gap Inc.'s Old Navy stores in downtown Chicago on Wednesday had piles of festive sweaters marked down to $35 from $36.50. Women's coats still stuffed the racks, despite being already marked down 50%, and its signature "performance fleece," also half off, was stacked eight shelves high.
The bad tidings for apparel have left some retailers looking for other items to push. At Banana Republic, also owned by Gap, $64 gift sets of its perfumes, body creams and shower creams were marked down 30%. Gold-boxed gift sets of a new line of bath products at Ann Taylor Stores Corp. Stores were discounted to $19.50 from $29. At Limited Brands Inc.'s Victoria's Secret, stores were piled with beauty gift sets, many 40% off.
Meanwhile luxury goods are expected to have a good season this year, and retail consultant Frederick Crawford of AlixPartners predicts "pockets of good news" for high-end retail. For brands like Prada and Gucci, he expects to see 5% to 7% growth.
According to retail surveys, electronics sales were down 0.5% in the three-week period between Nov. 18 and Dec. 9 compared to a year ago, according to Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for market watcher NPD Group. He said consumers in recent years have been delaying purchases until closer to Christmas, which may account for the slowdown.
Indeed, Angela Smith has waited until the last week to make her purchases. A 39-year-old bank employee in Dallas, Ms. Smith said she is waiting for prices to drop further as well as trying to spend less. For her three nephews, ages 12, 8 and 7, she plans to buy remote-controlled cars, which Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Initially priced at $59 and has since dropped to $49. "I am going to swing by this weekend and see if they are going to take it down one more time," says Ms. Smith, who was shopping for a co-worker's present at her local Wal-Mart midweek.
Home-furnishings retailers, fighting the weak housing market, are being particularly aggressive with their promotions this year. At Williams-Sonoma Inc.'s Pottery Barn store on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, Christmas-tree-shaped candles were discounted 50%, and holiday garlands of fake evergreen branches were 30% off. Wrapped gifts such as silver jewelry boxes, also marked down 30%, were stacked high Wednesday afternoon.
Home-improvement outfits like Lowe's Cos. Inc. And Home Depot Inc. Are destined to be hardest hit, says AlixPartners' Mr. Crawford. "Consumers are absolutely showing us that they will be delaying discretionary purchases" like gear to remodel a kitchen, he said.
A boom-bust pattern is typical after Thanksgiving's Black Friday discounts, which encourages a flurry of purchases early but leads to a tapering off in early December, killing shopping momentum. This year the pattern was more pronounced: A double-digit sales surge on Black Friday exceeded retailers' expectations; but come December, throngs of shoppers didn't return.
There was one exception, however: online retail. Web merchants have discounted and promoted heavily this season, say industry analysts. Shipping promotions have been particularly popular. Sixty-eight percent of surveyed Web retailers said they are offering express shipping promotions this year, up from 49% last year, according to Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, an online retail trade group and unit of National Retail Federation.
As the boom continues, these companies are becoming increasingly creative to draw customers. This year Ice.com, a Montreal-based Internet jeweler, has rolled out new videos to promote products and free overnight shipping. It has experimented with new marketing tricks such as buying front-page ads on Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and Yahoo Inc.'s Web sites this week. Ice.com even tried to tap influencers to drive word-of-mouth among blogs, magazine mentions and celebrities.
Good article. Sounds like they arent doing so hot.
I will be living in the southwest suburbs of chicago. It will be me, my husband and 5 month old daughter. Were 1st time homebuyers and im trying to see how much water and GAS heat will cost a month??????
It's a 2 bedroom 1 story house.
I live about 2 hours west of you, so our bills would be similar…
Water = If it's combined with Garbage & Sewer like ours, it will probably run you about $30-$40 per month, year-round. If you plan on using sprinklers, watering plants outside a lot, or taking really long showers, you will pay considerably more.
Gas Heat = Winters will be high. Plan on $125-$350 a month, depending on how well your home is insulated. Unless you have brand new windows and insulation throughout the whole house, it would be a good idea to buy some caulk/sealant at a hardware store (just tell someone you want the clear stuff that you squeeze around the windows to keep your house warm in the winter and that pulls off easily – sorry, I can't remember the actual name of it). Plastic wrap over the windows and putting down extra insulation in the attic will also cut down on costs. I highly recommend you buy a digital thermostat – you can get a good one for about $30-$40. You can set up your desired temperature, so you don't have to worry about the furnace running unnecessarily when you're sleeping or not home. If you need to buy a new furnace, make sure to buy the most efficient one you can for your home – it will save you money down the road. The rest of the year will probably run around $50.
Electric = Simple advice. Turn off lights, computers, and anything else electronic when you're not using it – and buy those spiral light bulbs that last forever and use less energy. If you use air conditioners or central air, your electric bill will be around $100-$350 per month, depending on how much you use it. The rest of the year, it will probably be $30-$60 per month. If you get the chance to buy new appliances, make sure to buy "Energy Efficient" ones – they may be a little more expensive to purchase, but they will save you a lot of money on your monthly bills.
Extras = Don't forget to buy new smoke/fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors for every level of your home – even the basement. Babyproof with those electric outlet covers, cabinet door locks, and hook & eye locks for basement/pantry/outside doors – all of that is inexpensive, easy to install, and great for keeping your baby safe.
I have a mounted wall lamp with the cord running down the wall and then plugged into an outlet. This is controlled by a switch. I would like to replace the lamp with a sconce (fish the wire inside the wall) which would still be controlled by the switch but also keep the outlet active. Can anyone assist me with the wiring for this?
Depending on the age of the home there may or may not be firestopping. In newer homes there probably will not be. I usually like to do this install with an old work box where you want to mount the light. You will want to check the mounting requirements of the sconce to see whether you will need a round or standard outlet box. If the light is heavier you may need a bracket "fan support" style box or a smart box that would mount directly on a stud.
Cut the appropriate size hole for the box in the appropriate location where you want the light to hang. If you are putting the light in the same "stud bay" as the outlet and there is no firestop things will be easier. I'll assume this is the case for our project. After turning power off to the receptacle unscrew the receptacle and pull it out of the box leaving it hanging on the wires. If it is 14gauge wire you will need to use 14-2 up to our light. If it is 12gauge wire then you may be dealing with a small appliance circuit that is not suppose to be used as a lighting circuit and you will need to learn how to patch the hole you just cut. A small appliance circuit is a 20 amp circuit that feeds outlets in the kitchen and dining room. The fact that the outlet we are dealing with is a switched circuit tells us the outlet is designed for lighting therefore I will continue with the assumption you didn't leave to find something to patch the wall with. You need to create an opening in the top of the box that held the receptacle to push the wire up to the light. Hopefully the box is a plastic box with availablee cable entries. Push the 14-2 up the wall in the cavity till you can pull about a foot out the hole where the light will hang. If your not sure how much a foot is check the yellow pages for an electrician. Leave everything else as is and he will hopefully be there soon. If you figured the foot thing out we will continue.
If only half the current outlet is switched and you would like the the entire outlet hot and only the light switched then take the wire off the half of the outlet that is switched and connect it to the black of the wire that you ran to the light. The wire you removed from the outlet should have been either black or red. If it was white, eitheer it runs to the switch on black and switches back on white or you took it off the wrong side of the outlet in which case undo what we just did and put it back where it was. If your in Chicago I can't help you. You have bigger problems then this light thingy. We will assume we have either a red or black wire attached to the black of the 14-2 or you have the switched white and not the "neutral" side and your in a happy place. You will now want to remove the white wire(s) from the receptacle and splice them together with the white of our new 14-2 (the 1 we ran to the hole in the wall) You need a tail with this splice to reconnect it to the side of the outlet that we removed the white from. You only need 1 tail connected to the white side of the outlet. See the little tab that connects the 2 screw terminals together on that side? Good, keep that in the back of your mind. If there was only 1 wire on the white side we could have just attached the white of our 14-2 to the other screw and forgotten about that splice and tail deal but I'm hear at this keyboard and have to try to visualize every scenarioo you may encounter and give you the best directions as to how to do it. I could actually do this job in my sleep and could have done it faster then I'm typing it.
Remember the tab on the white side. Look on the let's call it black side. Calling it becausee there may be a black wire still attached to it. Is the tab broken? If so we have the half switched outlet I was hoping for. I really hate when clowns switch the whole outlet. It's not like you were going to plug 2 lamps into that outlet right? I mean usually you plug a lamp into the bottom because you don't move lamps around a lot unless your my girlfriend, and you leave the top to do other things with like plug in the vacuume or cell phone charger. That way you don't have to reach past the lamp cord to plug in these items. A full switched outlet does not count as the required outlet per NEC any more either. Ok, back to the tab. If you want the whole outlet hot all the time and we had a half hot outlet the easiest thing to do will be buy a new outlet and replace it using the same wires that are now hooked to the existing outlet. Remember we took the wire off the outlet that was controlling the switched half? If the entire receptacle was switched the tab will be in place and you can wire the hot side the same way we wired the white side. Put the receptacle back in the wall.
Put the wire sticking out the hole into the box we will use to mount the light and mount the box appropriately for the type of box. Mount the light per manufacture recommendationss making sure you connect the grounds and properly connect the ground to the mounting strap.