Retailers hold Black Friday-style summer sales for Christmas shoppers

Video games were on sale this week at a Toys R Us in New York as the retailer offered discounts more familiar to holiday shoppers.
Video games were on sale this week at a Toys R Us in New York as the retailer offered discounts more familiar to holiday shoppers. (Bebeto Matthews/associated Press)
By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010

Looks as though Santa's summer vacation is getting cut short.

Retailers are trying to drum up some Christmas magic five months early with Black Friday-style sales that they hope will put shoppers in the spending spirit. At Target, the clock begins ticking on its 24-hour sale Friday. Toys R Us had daily mystery discounts this week and bonus promotions Friday and Saturday. And Sears and Kmart, owned by the same company, have brought back Christmas-club savings plans.

Some of the sale merchandise is traditional holiday fare -- video games, toys, Blu-ray players -- but other products would seem odd under the tree. Target has 25 percent off tank tops and bathing suits.

Maybe the North Pole is having a heat wave?

"It's not connected to Christmas," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of consumer research firm America's Research Group. "It's just a title of an event."

Beemer said his surveys of consumers show only about 5 to 7 percent shop for Christmas gifts throughout the year. Instead, the campaigns are a tactic to lure customers into stores during what is typically a slow month. Much of the summer shopping is over, and back-to-school spending has yet to hit full swing.

Not to mention that the industry could use a little holiday cheer: Retail sales have dropped for the past two months, ending a seven-month streak of gains. Consumer sentiment has dropped to the lowest point in a year. A survey by Citi released Thursday found that 62 percent of Americans believe the economy has yet to hit bottom.

"The recession has forced everyone to be much more creative," said Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, a marketing consultancy.

This is the first year Target will hold a Christmas sale during the summer. Dubbed "Back in Black Friday," the campaign features about 500 items, on sale on the company's Web site for 24 hours at an average of 40 percent off. The range of merchandise includes home decor, Nintendo Wii video games and a $99.99 Blu-ray player.

"It's all about generating that sense of excitement and that sense of urgency with our guests," said Molly Hanus, a Target spokeswoman.

While the Web site will be promoting Black Friday deals, Target stores are being set for back-to-school promotions with backpacks, dorm decor and new apparel lines for kids.

At Toys R Us, signs in the stores show Santa in flip-flops and reindeer with surfboards. The toy retailer launched its sale on Sunday, highlighting holiday staples such as action figures, dolls and video games. The campaign ends Monday with special online promotions.

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