RPT-PREVIEW-US stores pull out stops for 'last hurrah' weekend

Fri Dec 19, 2008 7:54am EST

Related Topics

* What: "Super Saturday"

* When: Dec. 20

* Retailers go for broke in last major shopping weekend

* Storm forecast could deliver additional blow to sales (Repeats to additional subscribers)

By Alexandria Sage

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 18 (Reuters) - U.S. retailers heading into "Super Saturday" -- the last major day of holiday shopping -- will try everything from jaw-dropping markdowns to round- the-clock openings in a final sales push this weekend.

The last Saturday before Christmas next week usually ranks just behind "Black Friday" as the single-largest holiday sales day. Black Friday fell on Nov. 28 this year, the day after U.S. Thanksgiving.

U.S. stores have already taken deep discounts to attract recession-weary consumers in the past few weeks and salvage something in what may become their worst holiday season in nearly two decades.

Adding to their woes, a major storm headed for the U.S. Northeast this weekend could be a devastating blow, with wet or freezing conditions another reason to stay home.

Planalytics, which measures the effect of weather on retailers, says the Northeast, lower Midwest and Great Lakes regions could see snow, sleet or freezing rain. On the West Coast, recent rainy conditions could continue to disrupt holiday traffic.

"If this happens, even the Grim Reapers with their dire expectations for this sales season will look like they were bulls because it will be devastating to the actual sales results," said Barclays Capital analyst Robert Drbul.

If storms brew, stores will be forced to mark down even more aggressively and unplanned promotions will ensue.

"You'll see sort of real time adjustments," Drbul said. "You will go in the stores and you will see coupons that are photocopied to say 'Take another 25 percent off'."

The weekend before Christmas typically accounts for some 11.5 percent of holiday sales, according to ShopperTrak, which monitors shoppers at more than 50,000 retail locations.

"Super Saturday" represents 4.5 percent of that figure, according to the group. In 2007, Super Saturday totaled $8.7 billion in retail sales of everything from apparel to sporting goods and books, up 1 percent from the same day in 2006.

PROCRASTINATOR SPECIALS

Retailers from Kohl's Corp (KSS.N) to Wal-Mart Stores Inc's (WMT.N) Sam's Club are extending hours in the hope of a last- minute holiday shopping rush. Some 13 Macy's (M.N) stores in the eastern United States will stay open 24 hours a day in the days before Christmas, a spokesman said.

Calling the weekend "the last hurrah," NPD Group's Marshal Cohen cited data from a recent Consumer Reports poll showing that 56 percent of consumers had not begun their holiday shopping as of the second week of December.

"We have an awful lot of people who are still procrastinating, it's a little higher than where we were in previous years," Cohen said. "Retailers know this is it -- they're going to pull out all the stops."

Consumers have cut back on gift-buying as they grapple with falling home values, rising job cuts and a credit crunch.

Tightened household budgets have hit retailers' sales and profit growth, with some stores willing to give up even more margins just to keep shoppers coming to their stores.

The promotions also help ensure retailers start January with clean inventories. That is important because excess merchandise ordered over the holidays gets in the way when new, full-price merchandise arrives in the new year.

"Retailers want to get as much inventory cleared out as possible," said Steven Tricarico, a banker with Jefferies & Co. "They've been in clear-out mode since before Thanksgiving. They've been training the customer ... wait, wait, wait for bargains."

But smart shoppers realize that due to the promotional environment, coveted items won't be around for long.

"People have the mentality that things won't be around if I wait -- there's no replenishment," he added. (Additional reporting by Nicole Maestri in New York; Editing by Andre Grenon)

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