Anxious retailers stretch holiday hours
With a week to go before Christmas, retailers are in full battle mode, with many unveiling plans to keep their stores open for marathon stretches to give last-minute gift buyers every opportunity to spend.
Toys R Us will throw its doors wide starting at 6 a.m. Dec. 21 — the consumption craze known as Super Saturday — and won’t wrap up until 9 p.m. Christmas Eve. During that 87-hour spree, the chain also will tempt customers with price-matching programs, a constant cycle of inventory updates and discounts on hot items such as the Furby Boom toy.
In New York’s Times Square, the Toys R Us store has been open since 8 a.m. Dec. 1 and will remain operational through 10 p.m. on Dec. 24 in an unprecedented 566-hour run.
Then there’s Kohl’s, whose doors will stay unlocked for more than 100 straight hours for the first time. From 6 a.m. on Dec. 20 through 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, shoppers will have access to free gift boxes and the ability to order from a wider assortment of goods listed in digital in-store kiosks.
Stores are throwing extended hours, price-matching guarantees, shipping deals and door-buster-style deals at consumers — anything to smooth their path to splurging.
Merchants are facing big challenges this year.
The sour memory of a less-than-spectacular Black Friday weekend is still fresh. The industry is already most of the way through the shortest Thanksgiving-to-Christmas stretch in a decade. And consumer confidence remains fragile.
Harsh weather in the Midwest and Northeast over the weekend caused bricks-and-mortar retail sales last Saturday to plunge 5.4 percent from the same period last year at malls and other shopping venues as foot traffic tanked nearly 26 percent, according to data firm ShopperTrak.
Failure to move merchandise before Christmas will likely require even steeper discounting in the waning days of December for retailers to clear shelves for spring inventory, said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin. With all-night holiday schedules, businesses are probably hoping to draw shoppers who work the late shift, teenagers and any other consumers they’ve missed during daylight hours.
“There are a lot of nervous retailers right now,” Martin said. “It’s a fingers-crossed situation.”
Not all retailers are planning all-nighters to accommodate panicky consumers.
On the 24th, Kmart stores will be open from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. — six more hours of shopping than last year but short of the round-the-clock schedule of some other chains.
Sears shops will be open one fewer hour than in 2012, with shoppers welcome from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Target’s schedule has barely changed from last year, with plans to open the day before Christmas from 7 a.m. until either 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., depending on the store. By some accounts, December hasn’t been as dour as feared. The International Council of Shopping Centers said Tuesday that sales for the week that ended Dec. 14 rose 4.8 percent from a week earlier, and 2 percent from the same period a year earlier. Many retailers continued offering Black Friday-style door-buster deals straight through the middle of the month.
Still, the council’s chief economist, Michael Niemira, said in a statement that “there remains a bit of sluggishness in holiday sales, and promotional activity has been stepped up over the last week.”
Consumers, he said, “are down to the wire.”
The period has been “a holiday season like no other,” according to the National Retail Federation. Internet shoppers, who helped propel Cyber Monday sales past records, will be key in determining whether the holiday season is a success or a fiasco.
At UPS, this week is known as Peak Week. The company expects to deliver 132 million packages during the period, or the equivalent of 300 parcels a second.
As of Dec. 9, 32 million shoppers hadn’t started their gift-buying. Among consumers who still have to work through their lists, nearly half plan to wrap up their shopping online — the highest percentage in the history of the National Retail Federation’s survey.
Even on Christmas Day, 9.2 percent of consumers plan to shop online, up from the less than 5 percent who said the same in 2009.
To score customers unwilling to venture out into the throngs at bricks-and-mortar stores, retailers are touting the convenience of digital shopping.
Toys R Us customers can place online orders up until noon EST on Dec. 23 and use the express shipping option to have their items delivered by Christmas Eve. Patrons can also pick up products ordered online in stores until 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
Amazon.com is allowing members of its Prime service to order products up to midnight EST on Dec. 22 with the promise that they’ll be delivered before Christmas with free two-day shipping. And in certain cities, paying $3.99 or more for local express delivery moves the ordering deadline to Christmas Eve.
“This is a unique holiday season,” said Greg Greeley, vice president of Amazon Prime. “With so few shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, this weekend can be hectic for many holiday shoppers — fighting crowds while struggling to find just the right gift.”