Business Monday

December 20, 2013

Stores are offering discounts and extending their hours in the final countdown to Christmas

Still have gifts to check off your list? You’re in luck: sales are popping up across South Florida, and stores are extending their hours for the weekend rush.

In an effort to combat slow sales, retailers are slashing prices and stretching hours for the final pre-Christmas shopping sprint. Some stores are even keeping their doors open 24/7 through Christmas Eve, hoping to create a Black Friday-like frenzy.

“It’s like door busters all over again,” said John Fleming, spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation, who expected Saturday to be the busiest day of the year in terms of register sales. Overall, the trade group is predicting a 4.5 percent jump in revenues statewide during the November-December season compared to last year, thanks in large part to visitors.

With discounts already appearing in stores around the region, Marina Bellino of Key Biscayne happily snagged a dress marked 40 percent off at Banana Republic and a blouse 20 percent off at Macy’s Dadeland store. Sales “started earlier this year, I guess,” said Bellino, 49.

A late Thanksgiving date this year has compressed the shopping season by six days over 2012. For retailers, the weeks have passed in an all-too-brief flash.

For the final stretch, Toys “R” Us won’t close at all for 87 consecutive hours, beginning at 6 a.m. on Saturday through 9 p.m. Christmas Eve. And Kohl’s will remain open for more than 100 hours straight, from 6 a.m. Friday, through 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Other major retailers in South Florida will be open at least until the wee hours of the night. Macy’s and Best Buy will stay open each day through Monday, from 7 am. to 2 a.m., and 7 a.m. to midnight, respectively.

“We are trying to accommodate customers, and we know what they want,” said Best Buy spokesman Jeremy Baier.

The holiday season is a critical time for retailers, accounting for up to 40 percent of their annual revenue. The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail group, expects an increase of 3.9 percent over last year, nationwide, for a total of $602.1 billion in holiday sales, compared to $579.5 billion in sales for 2012's holiday season.

Despite that rosy prediction, the season so far has been somewhat sluggish, as harsh weather in the Midwest and Northeast have kept shoppers at bay. ShopperTrak, which analyzes retail shopping, reported that in-store retail sales for the week of Dec. 9 to Dec. 15 were down 0.8 percent nationwide from the same week last year. Retail in-store shopper traffic also fell last week by 19.9 percent compared to the same time period in 2012. Last Saturday’s results were particularly grim, with brick-and-mortar retail sales down 5.4 percent, while in-store shopper traffic fell 25.9 percent.

To lure bargain-seeking (and last-minute) shoppers, retailers are slashing prices to levels once seen after the holiday. At Dadeland Mall, for instance, store after store boasts sales on massive, eye-catching signs: 40 percent off the entire store at Gymboree and Ann Taylor, 30 percent off at J. Crew and Abercrombie & Fitch.

“The last couple of years, people have used these strategies to drive traffic, because prior to the last weekend before Christmas, sales always get soft, so its like barbells: big Black Friday, big weekend before Christmas, and in the middle you go into a trough,” said Cynthia Cohen, president of Strategic Mindshare, based in Miami. “So yes, there is a lot of discounting, and a lot of it has been planned to drive store traffic.”

Patricia and Jaime Tolsa of West Miami were among those searching for good deals this week. “We’re bargain hunters,” said Patricia, 32, who found discounts on clothing and home furnishings at JCPenney and other stores. “We really try to take advantage of the sales.”

Jasem Alasfour, 33, who lives in South Beach, and his brother, Essa, 26, visiting from Kuwait, found plenty of bargains while scouting for gifts, including sports equipment at Champs, a doll at babycottons and sportswear at Fit2Run. Sale prices were far below what they would cost in Kuwait, Essa Alasfour said. “There were lots of ‘if you buy two you get a third at 50 percent off,’ ” he said. “And [Original] Penguin had everything 40 percent off.” A third brother, Yousef, 21, who lives in London, snagged a pair of Nikes at Champs for $69, which he said would cost 70 pounds, or about $115, at home.

Marysia Sowinski, 63, who lives in Caracas, lauded the sales. She spent several days shopping at BCBG, American Girl, Express, Macy’s, Ann Taylor and Banana Republic, where she snagged clothes, toys and perfume. “It’s much better than in my country, and it’s cheaper,” she said. “And I feel secure.”

Indeed, many of the shoppers filling local malls — and propping up the economy — hail from abroad.

Defeng Zhao, a 20-year-old University of Miami student from Hohhot, China, loaded up on gifts for his trip home, including Godiva chocolates and Swarovski crystal jewelry.

Separately, Anna Ivanova, 19, a UM student from Moscow, bought clothing for her little brother at Gymboree.

“When the whole store is on sale, it’s very nice,” she said.

Rampant price-cutting solidified during the recession, as retailers struggled to prop up declining revenues. Now, stores are finding that many shoppers won’t open their wallets unless they get a bargain. “What we are recognizing this year is [pre-Christmas sales are] here to stay,” Fleming said. “It’s what consumers are looking for.”

As a result, shoppers searching for post-holiday deals may find sizes and selection limited, Cohen said.

For now, all-store discounts can be found all over South Florida, like 30 percent off at Madewell and 25 percent off at Calypso St. Barth.

In this cyber age, some retailers are also emailing discounts, which can then be printed or shown on a smartphone at the register, like “buy one, get one 50 percent off” coupons for H&M, and fliers giving Victoria’s Secret shoppers 30 percent off a single item.

“A lot of retailers have experienced excess store inventory because their e-commerce business has been so vibrant,” Cohen said. “So inventory is in the store when they could have used it in the warehouse.”

E-commerce shopping is particularly racing in the countdown to Christmas.

According to the National Retail Federation’s latest holiday survey, 49.9 percent of holiday shoppers said they plan to do the remainder of their holiday shopping online, the highest percentage in the survey’s 11-year history.

This year’s top selling gifts mirror favorites from years past: apparel, toys, electronics, home decor items, jewelry and personal care or beauty items, the federation said. And 34.4 percent of survey respondents have bought gift cards, the most requested gift item, the organization said.

At Toys “R” Us, a variety of price cuts are planned for the days leading up to Christmas. On Friday and Saturday, Furby Booms will go for $40, down from $59, and Power Rangers action figures and play sets will be buy one, get one free. On Sunday through Tuesday, shoppers can get a Sofia the First Enchanted Vanity for $59.99, down from $79.99. Skylanders SWAP Force Starter Packs and Disney Infinity Starter Packs will be $59.99 each, down from $74.99.

Yet not everyone is looking for a deal.

“I just see what’s nice, and I buy it, said Tony Sanchez, 25, of Kendall, who breezed through Dadeland Mall, lugging shopping bags from Nordstrom, Michael Kors and Sephora. Inside were gifts for his girlfriend: a purse, wallet, sunglasses, two pairs of jeans, two pairs of wedges, a pair of flats, a pair of boots and makeup.

“I’m in the doghouse,” said Sanchez, a catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, “and I’m trying to buy my way out of the doghouse.”

Related content



Editor's Choice Videos