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Angling for Sales, Retailers Set Their Bait

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2004; Page E01

Prepare for the madness: The $30 Wal-Mart DVD player is back.

To lure shoppers into their stores, the nation's retailers will again offer LOW LOW LOW prices on a number of gifts and gadgets, as stores throw open their doors at Oh-Dark-Hundred tomorrow and kick off the holiday shopping season.

Shoppers make their way around Flatirons Mall west of Denver. Retailers are expecting a slightly improved holiday shopping season this year. (Ed Andrieski -- AP)

In addition to the deep discounts, retailers are dangling perks such as free coffee, prize drawings and parking. Big-box retailers are trying other tricks: Target, for example, lets shoppers sign up for recorded wake-up calls from celebrities.

In today's Wal-Mart circulars, shoppers will find the infamously cheap DVD/CD player that incited Pamplona-style scenes at Wal-Mart stores last November. Also, for less than $40, they can buy a 7-foot, pre-lit Christmas tree and, for the li'l rapper in the family, a radio-controlled Hummer for less than $100. Bling not included.

Retailers are anticipating a slightly improved holiday shopping season compared to the last, as the sector attempts to bounce back from down years in 2000 and 2001. Analysts will be watching this season's receipts carefully to see if last year's upturn was the beginning of a rebound, or an isolated bump.

Louise Gordon-Radics, marketing director at Westfield Shoppingtown Montgomery (also known as Montgomery Mall) said the stores in her mall experienced a "high single-digit" increase in sales last month, compared with October 2003, and they are hopeful the trend will continue in coming weeks.

November and December spending at the nation's chain stores was up 6.5 percent in 2003, compared to the year before, and should be up another 4 to 5 percent this year, according to statistics from the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group for shopping malls.

Many retailers have begun offering giveaways and big discounts on the Friday after Thanksgiving to funnel massive amounts of buyers into their stores, hoping that volume will compensate for sales of loss-leader items, such as compact discs and under-$30 DVD players.

The day has come to be known as Black Friday because some retailers say the day's sales push their stores into profitability, or into the black, for the first time all year.

At 6 a.m. Friday, Target is set to launch its Two-Day Sale. At Target.com, shoppers can register to be awakened by the recorded voice of supermodel Heidi Klum, rapper Ice-T (Suggestion: "Get the &%#$! out of bed!"), Cheech and Chong's Cheech Marin, galactic bad-guy Darth Vader or a chicken. Or maybe it's a rooster.

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