UNITED STATES NEWS

Still haven’t bought holiday gifts? Retailers have a sale for you

Dec 22, 2023, 6:40 AM

A sign aimed at last minute holiday shoppers is displayed at a retail store in Schaumburg, Ill., Mo...

A sign aimed at last minute holiday shoppers is displayed at a retail store in Schaumburg, Ill., Monday, Dec. 18, 2023. Retailers are stepping up discounting and other enticements for the final days before Christmas as they try to lure last minute shoppers who've been waiting to get the best deals in an economically challenging environment. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

NEW YORK (AP) — Retailers are stepping up sales and other enticements in the final days before Christmas to lure shoppers who’ve been waiting for the best deals, or who didn’t have the time or the urge to wrap up gift-buying early.

Incentives to spend last minute are an extension of ongoing efforts by stores to keep shoppers engaged, an effort that began as early as October this year. Some retailers have put goods on clearance racks and shelves before the holiday to lure bargain hunters. Michaels, the arts and crafts chain, trimmed prices on holiday trees by up to 75% on Dec. 15, cuts that would typically arrive the day after Christmas.

“I think this is a more challenging year than if you looked across the last decade of Christmases,” said Amanda Rassi, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Michaels. “But overall, we’re happy with how it’s come in.”

There had been rising concern among retailers leading up to the holiday about the willingness of Americans to spend as credit card debt and delinquencies rose and savings fell. The latest report on the Federal Reserve’s favored inflation gauge, issued Friday, shows prices are easing. But prices are still higher at restaurants, car shops, or for things like rent. Consumers, however, unexpectedly picked up their spending from October to November as the holiday season kicked off, underscoring the power of shoppers despite higher costs.

Retail analysts expect overall sales will grow at a slower pace than last year, and there is concern over how shoppers are paying for things. More are using “buy now, pay later plans this holiday season. Adobe Analytics predicts a nearly 17% surge this season. That may be good for retailers in the short term, but some shoppers may end up saddled with more debt than they had planned.

Emily Irwin, senior director of advice for Wells Fargo, also noted higher interest rates on credit card this year will also add to financial stress for some families and said people should pay off credit cards when they come due in January if possible.

“It’s not a deal if you can’t pay for it in January,” she said.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, expects U.S. holiday sales will rise 3% to 4% November through December. That’s lower than last year’s 5.4% growth but more consistent with typical holiday spending, which rose 3.6% between 2010 and 2019 before the pandemic skewered numbers.

Adobe Analytics expects U.S. online holiday sales to rise 4.8% from last year between November and the end of the year. Through Dec. 17, sales up 4.7%, Adobe said.

The holiday picture has mixed. Sales of home goods and fashion items have been challenging for retailers. The malaise for toy sellers has extended into another season. Hasbro this month announced 1,100 job cuts or 20% of its workforce. Toy retailers got a boost as parents splurged on toys for their children during the pandemic, but a pullback on that type of spending has been greater than expected.

Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, is working with stores individually to offer discounts for a few hours or a single day to get shoppers inside. The megamall sees customer counts up 10% and a spot check of stores showed sales ahead of last year so far, according to Jill Renslow, chief business development and marketing officer at Mall of America.

Saturday is expected to be the second busiest day of the holiday period after Black Friday, according to Sensormatic Solutions, which tracks store traffic. On average, the top 10 busiest shopping days account for roughly 40% of all holiday retail traffic, it said.

“We’re seeing more price-conscious consumers who are focused on finding the best deals and are willing to hold out for the lowest prices,” said Tom McGee, CEO of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Spencer Jordan, senior vice president of leasing at Columbus, Ohio-based Easton Town Center, said customer counts are higher than last year so far. Sales are consistent with a year ago, however.

“I’m hopeful that both sales and traffic will be up this holiday season as we get closer to that extra shopping weekend this month in combination with the typical strong sales we see on Super Saturday,” she said.

Salesforce expects a surge in shoppers using services that let them buy online and then pick up the items at the store as the online delivery window closes. Such services accounted for 25% of online orders during the three weeks following Cyber Monday, Salesforce said. That number should be one-third of online orders for the final week before Christmas.

Katie Ciullo, 52, of Westfield, New Jersey, is among those procrastinators.

The mother of two had planned to head out to Kohl’s to pick up gifts for the last few people on her shopping list. The teacher’s aide said she usually begins shopping in October, but this year she was stumped on what to buy. She’s already spent $700 and plans to spend another $300.

“Tonight’s my deadline,” said Ciullo. “I pushed it too far. I can’t let it happen again.”

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Follow Anne D’Innocenzio: http://twitter.com/ADInnocenzio

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Still haven’t bought holiday gifts? Retailers have a sale for you