Stores hope sum­mer Christ­mas sales will woo wary shop­pers

Early dis­counts let buy­ers spread out hol­i­day ex­penses, but some skep­ti­cal

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - By Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — Santa in the sum­mer?

Re­tail­ers are pump­ing still more en­ergy this year into try­ing to get shop­pers to loosen their purse strings early for Christ­mas with sparkly or­na­ments, hol­i­day mu­sic and spe­cial prices. In July.

Tar­get Corp. is en­ter­ing the game for the first time, with a one-day on­line sale Fri­day on 500 items as di­verse as cloth­ing and Blu-ray disc play­ers that’s mod­eled af­ter sales typ­i­cally held dur­ing Thanks­giv­ing week­end. And Sears and Toys R Us are dra­mat­i­cally pro­mot­ing “Christ­mas in July” on­line and in stores based on the suc­cess they saw in last year’s ef­forts.

“We re­ally wanted to cre­ate that sense of ex­cite­ment, that sense of ur­gency,” Tar­get spokes­woman Molly Hanus said.

Re­tail­ers pushed Christ­mas pro­mo­tions as early as Septem- ber dur­ing the re­ces­sion as they com­peted for shop­pers’ dwin­dling dol­lars and tried to get them back into stores. Some re­ces­sion-weary shop­pers have been glad to spread out the cost of the hol­i­days, es­pe­cially if dis­counts av­er­age 40 per­cent as Tar­get’s do. But

oth­ers might be turned off by the snowflakes and San­tas and glitz. And stores are di­vided as well.

“It’s smarter to buy this early,” said Ebony Rios, a 17-year-old high school stu­dent shop­ping dur­ing the week­end at Toys R Us in New York’s Times Square, where a Santa in sun­glasses lounged in a swim­ming pool in one ad. The Clay­ton, N.C., res­i­dent — who said she spent $200 on her nieces and neph­ews at the store’s on­line sum­mer sale last year — plans to take ad­van­tage again this year.

But Tammy Perez, 28, from Bloom­ing­ton, Ind., wasn’t ready.

“It’s too hot to think about Christ­mas,” said the ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant, also at Toys R Us on Sun­day. “The ear­li­est I will shop will be in Oc­to­ber.”

Some mer­chants, in­clud­ing J.C. Pen­ney and Shoe­buy.com, agree.

“Cus­tomers don’t like it when you push Christ­mas too early,” said Mike Boyl­ston, J.C. Pen­ney’s chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer.

That’s es­pe­cially true when shop­pers are al­ready putting off buy­ing any­thing un­til the moment they ac­tu­ally need it, he said.

Janet Hoff­man, global man­ag­ing part­ner at Ac­cen­ture’s re­tail prac­tice, called July hol­i­day sales “a risky bet.” Shop­pers could be in­spired to buy more, but sum­mer pro­mo­tions also can hurt back-to-school buy­ing and de­press De­cem­ber busi­ness, she said. Mer­chants are tak­ing a va­ri­ety of tac­tics:

Tar­get cus­tomers can find a link at Tar­get.com for what the chain is call­ing “Back in Black,” which in­cludes Philips Blu­ray disc play­ers for $99.99 and Lib­erty of London dresses for $14.99. The 24-hour sale, which starts at 2 a.m. Fri­day Cen­tral

‘It’s too hot to think about Christ­mas. The ear­li­est I will shop will be in Oc­to­ber.’

Tammy Perez

Ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant from Bloom­ing­ton, Ind.

time, will not be ad­ver­tised in Tar­get stores.

Sears Hold­ings Corp.’s Sears.com and Kmart.com shop­pers are in­vited to “Christ­mas Lane” to shop for lights, or­na­ments and out­door dé­cor, and the web­sites are tem­po­rar­ily of­fer­ing free ship­ping on all or­ders worth $39 or more.

In more than 500 Sears stores, hol­i­day tunes will be play­ing at least through Sun­day in the sea­sonal aisles, where cus­tomers can touch hol­i­day mer­chan­dise such as stuffed an­i­mals, or­na­ments and light-up porce­lain houses. Last year’s “Christ­mas in July” in­cluded 200 stores.

Toys R Us is pro­mot­ing its sum­mer­time dis­counts more heav­ily than it did last year with deals of the day and free ship­ping through Satur­day.

Natalie Nor­ris-Howser, spokes­woman at Sears Hold­ings, said the com­pany’s sum­mer­time hol­i­day pro­mo­tions did very well last year and that it may ex­tend the sale as it did last year to ap­peal to cau­tious con­sumers.

“They’re peo­ple in gen­eral that don’t have the ex­pend­able cash,” she said. The event al­lows shop­pers to see what’s go­ing to be avail­able so they can bud­get or put items on lay­away, she said.

But many other Amer­i­cans are in the same sit­u­a­tion as Is­abel Ve­lazquez, 39, a Toys R Us shop­per who said she can’t think about spend­ing right now.

“I just got laid off,” the Wilkes-Barre, Pa., res­i­dent said.

Bebeto Matthews

Toys R Us, which held a ‘Christ­mas in July’ sale last year, is pro­mot­ing its dis­counts more heav­ily this year. Other re­tail­ers such as Sears and Tar­get are of­fer­ing hol­i­day mark­downs in an ef­fort to per­suade shop­pers to start spend­ing early.

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