Retailers slash in a final push

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Retailers cut prices to entice the expected high number of last-minute shoppers
Retailers cut prices to entice the expected high number of last-minute shoppers

The countdown to the last days for shopping, last days for shipping and last-minute deals is on as retailers are vying for the attention of last-minute holiday shoppers. Direct is playing a central role in much of the strategy as brand owners turn to e-mail, search and online shopping incentives to sweeten the deal.

According to a new study by the BigResearch Consumer Intentions and Action Survey, published by the National Retail Federation, US consumers plan to spend an average of $832.36 on holiday-related shopping, up 1.9 % over last year's $816.69, but the lowest drop since the survey began in 2002.

 However there is hope of a buying surge. As of December 18, with only seven days left until Christmas, only 8% of shoppers had finished their holiday shopping, according to the study. Retailers like Kmart are taking advantage of this fact with last-minute discounts on popular holiday gifts through December 24.

“The holiday season often is stressful for shoppers. At Kmart, we're doing what we can to help alleviate some of the anxiety associated with holiday shopping and offer special last-minute prices on great gifts for the whole family,” said Mark Snyder, CMO of Kmart, in a statement. “We knowhat people are incredibly busy this time of year, and Kmart's last-minute deals allow our shoppers the opportunity to still take advantage of holiday savings even if they got a late start on shopping.”

This includes offers of up to 30% to 40% off of select items through December 20 and even more heavily discounted prices from December 21 on.

Toys “R” Us also is offering special deals and promotions until Christmas. The Toys “R” Us flagship store in New York's Times Square will be open round-the-clock from 6 a.m. on December 19 through 8 p.m. Christmas Eve.

 In addition, Toys “R” Us extended its free shipping offer for all online purchases made by noon December 19. The e-commerce store will offer overnight shipping for the holiday, letting shoppers place orders as late as noon December 23 with delivery in time for Christmas.

“As a specialty retailer in the toy business 365 days per year, parents know that they have the best chance of finding the hot items in-stock at Toys “R” Us − and that's important as we close in on the final days of the shopping season,” said Katie Reczek, corporate communications, Toys “R” Us Inc., via e-mail.

Other retailers took advantage of early promotions or bundled offers.

<a href="http://www.buzzdash.com/polls/do-you-think-retailers-can-make-up-ground-with-a-last-minute-push-139162/">Do you think retailers can make up ground with a last-minute push?</a> | <a href="http://www.buzzdash.com">BuzzDash polls</a>

“Smart retailers like Staples, instead of offering $30 off, were saying, ‘bring us your old cameras, and we'll give you $30 off the purchase of a new one,''' said Candace Cortlett, president of New York-based WSL Strategic Retail. “This late in the season, however, the focus is on the sale. Everywhere you go, from Bergdorfs and Barneys to Fashion Bug, everything is on sale. The discounts are deeper this year, and in places where you never saw them before.”

There is also a blurring of promotion styles among retailers, said Cortlett, who cited a Saks Fifth Avenue offer to spend $2,000 with no interest charged for 12 months, similar to a promotion Home Depot might run.

“They're now borrowing each other's promotion tools,” she said.

For online giant Amazon.com, the holiday strategy is all about keeping its every day strategy on low prices and free shipping in the forefront.

“We're just really focused on every day low prices and good shipping options, as we are throughout the year,” said Sally Fouts, spokesperson for Amazon.com.

“We offer different daily deals through our Goldbox, with lightning deals every hour of the day, which is a great place to find last minute shopping deals,” she said. “Customers can also sign up to receive e-mail or mobile alerts about sales and offers.”

For consumers who prefer the gift of travel or just looking to visit friends and family, Travelocity, Orbitz and Last Minute.com are all pushing their offers for last- minute deals. All of these properties have paid search offerings under the keywords “last minute holiday deals.”

Many retailers also are boosting their e-mail promotions and tying them into the stores with additional coupons for purchases, said Lauren Freedman, president of The E-Tailing Group, based in Chicago.

One example, she said, was a Borders e-mail promotion offering  a 30% coupon, plus in-store savings in the form of a special store coupon.

In addition, she said, more retailers are showcasing Bill Me Later or other alternative payment methods in their e-mail promotions.

But last minute promotions are not just for retailers and e-commerce companies.

 Brand marketers also are getting in on the action. Food manufacturer The Snack Factory took advantage of the last minute stress by promoting its Pretzel Chips products during the busy shipping season on the streets of New York.

Company reps dressed as Santa and elves handed out free products in Manhattan near post office locations to try to take advantage of the holiday hype and get their product in front of consumers.

What about after the holidays?

“The returns are going to be a big story − getting credit, cash back,” Cortlett said. “Where before they might have kept something out of politeness, that's over.”

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