Published by USA Today
Written by Sandra Block
With Christmas just two days away, retailers are going to extraordinary lengths to convince last-minute shoppers that they still have enough time to buy something for everyone on their list.
Some of this week's promotions were planned months ago, but they've taken on a new urgency after last weekend's East Coast snowstorm. The storm left millions of shoppers snowbound on the Saturday before Christmas, typically one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Retail sales for "Super Saturday" fell nearly 13% compared with last year, according to ShopperTrak, a research firm. Saturday sales totaled $6.9 billion, vs. $7.9 billion last year and $8.7 billion in 2007, ShopperTrak reported Tuesday.
"Mother Nature was very unkind to retailers on Saturday, as the year-over-year sales decline was the largest we've seen since we began reporting this number in 2002," said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak.
Through Sunday, consumers' average "holiday-gift completion rate" was 70.9%, almost 10 percentage points behind the same period last year, according to Michael Niemira, chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers. "That statistic suggests that the catch-up will be intense as consumers complete their holiday gift-buying this week," Niemira said.
How retailers are responding:
•Longer hours. Twelve Macy's department stores, including its flagship store in New York's Herald Square, will be open round-the-clock until 6 p.m. Thursday. Most Target stores will be open until midnight Wednesday and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday. Most Toys R Us stores will be open until midnight Wednesday. To accommodate customers affected by last weekend's snowstorm, East Coast stores will be open until 1 a.m. On Christmas Eve, stores will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; 9 p.m. on the East Coast.
•Discounts on hot items. Shoppers willing to go to a Wal-Mart store at the crack of dawn Wednesday will be able to buy a Zhu Zhu Pets Hamster for $8. Other retailers are selling the furry robotic toy for $10 or more, if they still have them in stock.
Wal-Mart is also continuing to offer its "Black Friday headliner"— a Magnavox Blu-ray disc player for $78, says Christine Frietchen, editor of ConsumerSearch.com, a website that reviews products. That's about 30% less than the price offered by other retailers. "They still have them, which surprised me," Frietchen says.
•Shipping deals. Retailers including Crate & Barrel, Crocs and Puma were smart to offer enticing free and fast-shipping deals this week to lure procrastinators, says Bryce Marshall, director of strategic services for the digital marketing software company Knotice.
For example, last-minute shoppers can get next-day delivery from Crate & Barrel if they order by noon ET on Wednesday.
"For any last-minute shopper, knowing they are getting their purchases in time for Christmas while saving significant dollars … is Shangri-La," Marshall says. "These sorts of promotions are much more relevant and effective than more gimmicky 'deal of the day' or '12 days of deals' promotions that seemed to be extremely popular this year."
•Last-minute pickup for online shoppers. Many major retailers are allowing customers to buy products online and pick them up in their stores. Best Buy will allow customers to buy items online as late as 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve and pick them up that evening, Frietchen says. "It's a good solution if you're really desperate.