Holiday shopping 2012: Big-box retailers take on online competitors

November 20, 2012

Big-box retailers are pulling out all the stops to lure holiday shoppers away from their computers, The Post’s Abha Bhattarai reports :

Laura Harders used to spend weeks perfecting her Black Friday shopping strategy. She’d study advertising circulars, then draw up a blow-by-blow plan for hitting the best sales, enlisting friends to help.

But this year, she is forgoing the long lines and early morning wake-up call in favor of shopping online from her home in Manassas.

“I considered going to the stores,” said Harders, who runs the blog Beltway Bargain Mom. “But then I thought, why would I? I can get great deals online without having to run out and fight over items on the shelf.”

Customers like Harders have big-box retailers — including Target, Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us — stumped and pulling out all the stops to lure shoppers out of their homes.

“With brick-and-mortar stores, you have to pay rent, you have to pay your bills, so companies are starting to say, ‘Wait, how do you get more people in our stores?’ ” said Trae Bodge of RetailMeNot.com, a Web site that specializes in online coupons and discounts.

Target has begun offering free WiFi to help customers access the company’s mobile app and online coupons. J.C. Penney is giving away free family portraits throughout November, as well as complimentary haircuts to children attending elementary school, a promotion the company started in August.

And Wal-Mart and Best Buy have promised to match online competitors’ prices in an effort to combat “showrooming” — the practice of scouting out items in retail stores, then buying them online for lower prices.

While retailers are advertising their holiday deals, analysts are predicting lackluckster sales growth this season, Bhattarai reports :

The average shopper is expected to spend just $9 more than the $740 he or she spent last year, according to a survey by BigInsight.

But even as consumers hold the line, they appear ready to buy gifts for more people than they did last year, adding co-workers, friends and pets to their shopping lists, according to the National Retail Federation. Holiday parties and office gift exchanges are coming back, too — and with them, a need for hostess gifts and trinkets for colleagues.

Local shop owners are responding by offering a larger selection of small gifts this year — the type you’d tuck into stockings or give co-workers — and are making sure they’re neatly packaged.

Area Brooks Brothers stores are stocked with bow ties, while Pink Palm, a women’s store in Old Town Alexandria, has filled its shelves with $48 ornaments and $118 Lilly Pulitzer scarves.

“It’s about ‘giftables’ this year,” Pink Palm store manager Allison Luchey said. “Makeup bags, wristlets, ornaments — and of course we’ve been selling a ton of iPhone and iPad cases.”

A few doors down, spherical ice molds ($13.50) have emerged as the season’s big seller at The Hour, a shop that specializes in barware.

“Ice cubes are the big thing in the cocktail world right now,” said Victoria Vergason, the store’s owner. “Some people like them square, some people like them round.”

“[Customers] will come in and say, ‘This is a great stocking stuffer ... and maybe I’ll buy one for myself, too,” she added.

To keep up with growing demand for on-the-go hostess gifts, employees at Red Barn Mercantile have begun creating gift baskets of items such as soap and candles. Other stores are taking similar steps.

The Post’s Katherine Boyle gives readers a game plan for Black Friday shopping :

We’ve said previously that it’s not always best to shop Black Friday sales. Holiday sales are starting earlier and extending through the season, so Black Friday savings aren’t as jaw-dropping as they once were.

But like it or not, Black Friday is an American tradition; retailers will deliver door busters to those who don’t mind standing outside in the cold Thanksgiving night.

If you’re up for the frenzy, have a game plan. Here’s what retail and shopping insiders think you should know about that other big day in November.

Should I do my holiday shopping on Black Friday?

Many shopping experts are saying no. Jody Rohlena of ShopSmart Magazine said holiday savings began on Columbus Day. But ritual drives the Black Friday frenzy: “It’s the kickoff for the holiday season,” said Craig LaRosa, a retail consultant at Continuum. “It’s social currency for a lot of people. Getting the best deal is something to brag about.” Walmart, Kmart, Target and Best Buy are all opening Thanksgiving night before midnight. Many stores, including Kohl’s and the Disney Store, are starting their sales a few days before Thanksgiving. Because retailers have started the holiday sales, we don’t recommend limiting yourself to Black Friday. Read our earlier article about the benefits of shopping now.

Well, I’m going to shop on Black Friday anyway. How do I prepare?

Rohlena recommends familiarizing yourself with the store layout before Black Friday. “If you’re looking to buy a door buster, know where it’s going to be in the store,” Rohlena said. “Ask the manager whether the side door will be open.” Know the times that the stores open, and be prepared to wait in long lines. Getting a door buster has never been an easy task, and experts are expecting high turnout again this year.

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