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Retailers Woo After Christmas Shoppers With Deep Discounts

Retailers were back yesterday with steep discounts for online shoppers seeking post-Christmas bargains in the booming e-commerce channel.

Companies like footwear maker Johnston & Murphy, clothier Ann Taylor, mass merchandiser Kmart, bookseller Barnes & Noble and home furnishings retailer Bombay Company yesterday sent enticing e-mails to opt-in lists. Their discounts ranged from 25 percent off for apparel to books for mere change.

“Many of the online retailers are also holding online after-Christmas sales, much like what we see offline, which will also certainly attract shoppers looking for additional bargains,” said Heather Dougherty, senior retail analyst at market researcher Nielsen//NetRatings, New York. “Many will also be using gift cards and gift certificates online as well, which can bring in revenues in the weeks following the holiday season.”

The online discounting spree matched bargains found yesterday in shopping malls and department stores across the United States. Also, gift cards and returns played a key role in enticing shoppers to bricks-and-mortar stores.

Gift cards last year accounted for 10 percent of 2004 holiday sales. Consumers are expected to spend an estimated $18.48 billion on gift cards this holiday season, up 6.6 percent from the year before, according to a Bigresearch study for the National Retail Federation.

One in five gift cardholders are expected to redeem their cards this week, based on a projection by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Meanwhile, online retailers are doing their best to make the most of the holiday shopping mood.

Nashville, TN-based Johnston & Murphy, for example, is running its “Semi-Annual Sale” on www.johnstonmurphy.com with end-of-season savings on footwear, apparel and accessories.

Ann Taylor has its own event: the “At Last Sale.” The New York-based retailer site at www.anntaylor.com invites shoppers to “shop and save … for a wonderful end to the season.” Discounts range from 25 percent to 60 percent off on sweaters, cashmere, pants, small leather goods, handbags, cold weather accessories, jackets, shoes, bags and fashion accessories.

Barnes & Noble, New York, is offering a “Private Preview After Holiday Sale” with discounts of up to 80 percent online at www.bn.com. Some discounts on books run deeper, like Peter Jennings’ “In Search of America,” which sells for only $1.99 – 96 percent off the cover price.

The Bombay Company, known for discounts throughout the year, has begun its “Winter Sale & Clearance Event” on www.bombaycompany.com. Site visitors can save up to 75 percent on lamps, furniture, glassware and accessories.

For its part, Kmart, Hoffman Estates, IL, sent an e-mail for its “Savings still feel a lot like Christmas” promotion. Visitors to www.kmart.com can get equipped to meet a perennial New Year’s resolution – weight loss – by buying for $94.99 the Tony Little Gazelle Edge Slider.

On the catalog side, retailers like LL Bean, Bloomingdale’s and Lands’ End dropped books for winter merchandise. Bloomingdale’s is also trying to drive customers to its stores with an extra 15 percent-off card that can be used on almost all sale and clearance items. Begun yesterday, the promotion ends on New Year’s Day.

It is not clear what impact the New York transit strike Nov. 20-22 will have on overall holiday retail sales. New York is the nation’s leading retail market. But bricks-and-mortar’s loss could be e-commerce’s gain, although it is simply channel shifting for many retailers.

Nielsen//NetRatings estimates online shoppers spent $25 billion through Friday Dec. 16, meeting forecasts set by other market researchers like comScore Networks, JupiterResearch and Forrester Research.

“I believe that most of the heaviest volume had occurred by then,” Dougherty said. “However, many online retailers were extending their season in the days leading up to the holiday weekend by offering free upgrades for expedited shipping. So I am sure they were able to entice some last-minute buyers to go ahead and make some final purchases up through Wednesday Dec. 21 or Thursday Dec. 22 last week to avoid heading out to the stores on Friday Dec. 23 and Saturday Dec. 24.”

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