U.S. Stores Ramp Up Bargains as Sales Lag
Tina Teague arrived at 5 a.m. yesterday at a Kohl’s Corp. (KSS) store in Greensboro, North Carolina, armed with more than $200 in gift cards from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (DKS) and Pier 1 Imports Inc. (PIR)
“No lines, that’s what we like,” said Teague 42, who last month waited for more than two hours in a checkout queue at a Gap Inc. (GPS) Old Navy location on Black Friday.
Teague was one of many consumers across the U.S. who were taking advantage of discounts on the day after Christmas, which this year was a holiday and a potential boon to retailers aiming for a strong finish to the shopping season.
Holiday sales will rise 3.8 percent, compared with a 5.2 percent advance last year, according to the Washington-based National Retail Federation. Sagging home prices and 8.6 percent unemployment continue to weigh on U.S. consumers, Chris Christopher, an IHS Global Insight economist, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“It’s not going to be a gangbusters Christmas,” said Christopher, who is based in Lexington, Massachusetts. “People are not doing that well. What’s happening with personal income and consumption is disheartening.”
Personal spending climbed 0.1 percent last month, the Commerce Department reported on Dec. 23. That was less than the median 0.3 percent gain projected in a Bloomberg News survey of 79 economists. Wages and salaries fell 0.1 percent from October, according to the Commerce Department.
As they have throughout the season, U.S. retailers continued to discount and keep stores open longer than ever. Almost all 600 Toys “R” Us U.S. locations were to remain open from Dec. 20 to Christmas Eve -- or 112 hours straight.
While the discounts may help move the merchandise, they also could squeeze profit margins, according to Poonam Goyal, a Bloomberg Industries analyst based in Princeton, New Jersey.
The fact that Christmas fell on a Sunday this year allowed Americans to shop right up to the last minute.
Beza Dejene, 23, was at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, a mall in Arlington, Virginia, on Christmas Eve. Dejene, who works in software sales, bought a handbag and fragrances for relatives and her boyfriend, and was looking for a video game for her little brother.
“I like last-minute shopping because it gets crazy and gives you the holiday feeling,” Dejene said. She doubled her spending this year to $400.
Family Dollar Stores Inc. (FDO), based in Matthews, North Carolina, operated on Christmas for the first time, opening about half of its 7,000-plus stores from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Many chains opened early yesterday, too. Target Corp. (TGT) swung open its doors at 7 a.m., an hour before usual, with a $100 discount on a Canon digital camera regularly priced at $299.99 and lower prices on plastic storage containers.
Doug Hutchinson, a 41-year-old teacher and father of two, arrived at Cincinnati Premium Outlets for the 7 a.m. opening. He purchased a scarf and gloves from Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. for $40, about 50 percent off the original price. He also bought two pairs of jeans for the price of one at Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. (PSUN)
“I spent too much on my kids and this is the first time I’m shopping for myself this year,” Hutchinson said.
Retailers continued to dangle deep discounts the day after Christmas. As an early-bird special, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin- based Kohl’s offered an extra 10 percent off kitchen electronics and bedding already marked down as much as 60 percent, according to its newspaper circular.
Target, which is based in Minneapolis, cut prices on New Year’s Eve appetizers from shrimp to pizza rolls.
Still, crowds were sparse at some malls -- at least early on. J.C. Penney Co. (JCP), discounting $10 bath towels to $3.99 as a doorbuster special, drew a crowd of about 15 people for its 6 a.m. opening in Greensboro. The parking lot at a Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD) store in Greensboro was about half full by midmorning.
“There aren’t that many people out,” said Terryl Sevast, a 62-year-old retired school teacher from Magnolia, Delaware, who was in Greensboro taking advantage of a Sears doorbuster coupon for $10 and looking to buy slacks for herself and socks and underwear for her son.
“We are trying to get the lowest price on our daily clothes,” said Sevast’s 65-year-old husband Jim, who bought three pairs of pants for $26.99 each, $3 off the regular price.
Consumers who have held back so far will buy clothes, furniture or appliances if they need them, Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group in Port Washington, New York, said yesterday in a telephone interview.
“The consumer is not feeling much better about the economy, but they’re getting frugal fatigue,” he said. “They are tired of not spending.”
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