Retailers focus on convenience as Christmas nears

CHICAGO Fri Dec 17, 2010 5:27pm EST

Holiday shoppers browse Macy's department store in New York City, December 6, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Holiday shoppers browse Macy's department store in New York City, December 6, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Retailers are focusing on convenience in the holiday season's home stretch.

Some stores will offer 24-hour shopping or help you make sure the item you want is in the store before you even get into the car. Others are trying to rectify early missteps.

Best Buy Co Inc made a bad merchandise bet and watched sales fall as shoppers looked past pricey 3D and Internet television technologies this year.

But the electronics chain may be an outlier in an otherwise improved shopping season, with the National Retail Federation raising its holiday sales forecast this week.

Reuters is monitoring the holiday strategies of department store chain J.C. Penney Co Inc, discounter Target Corp, Kmart parent Sears Holdings Corp, Best Buy and Toys R Us.

A sixth company that Reuters had been following, teen apparel chain Aeropostale Inc, had a different change of heart, based on a media report that it is setting up a defense against a potential takeover bid.

Aeropostale has not commented on the report and did not respond to repeated requests for an update on its holiday strategy this week.

BEST BUY:

Best Buy lost tech shoppers to mass merchants like Target and online retailer Amazon.com as it discounted less and promoted expensive 3D televisions this season.

The retailer acknowledged its misstep on Tuesday, when it reported a drop in quarterly sales at existing stores and lower-than-expected earnings.

After realizing that "the consumer is definitely showing propensity at the low end," the retailer said it will now promote lower-priced 32-inch TVs and making price adjustments in its computer section.

"The U.S. consumer is carefully considering his or her wallet and what they are going to buy for their holiday gift-giving," Dunn told Reuters in an interview, adding he expects sales volumes to be "enormous" in the 10 days before and after Christmas.

To boost customer traffic, Best Buy will offer free smartphones every day for the remainder of the holiday season. Customers will still need to sign the 2-year service agreement to get the phone.

TARGET:

Troy Risch, executive vice president of stores, said the company brought more televisions into stores to shore up dwindling stocks of what have been a popular item this season. But it is not overstocked with other goods.

"We don't have one item out there where we say 'Holy cow! We're going to have a lot of that left over,'" Risch said.

The last 10 days before Christmas is when the retailer sees a pickup after traffic slows a bit following "Black Friday" weekend, Risch said.

At that point, Target is "making sure to get everything out of the back room" at stores and making sure the displays at the end of the aisles "look gifty."

The company is also keeping the doors open late, with 85 percent of stores offering extended hours, Target said. Many will stay open until midnight.

SEARS:

Sears is planning more targeted promotions as it heads into the big sales weekend before Christmas, marketing executive David Friedman said.

The retailer will reach out to customers, especially its loyalty club members, through e-mails and online promotions to inform them about deals on popular items.

Sears said customers have shown interest in discretionary items like jewelry, which it is promoting aggressively.

"In the past couple of years, they have been very focused on functional items, and to see jewelry pick up, we think, is very encouraging," he said.

Sears will continue pushing its "buy online, pick up in store" offer to win last minute shoppers with convenience.

"Even on Christmas Eve, you can go online, shop for products and go pick them that same day in the store," Friedman said in an interview.

TOYS R US:

The top toy seller is staying open for 88 consecutive hours through 10 p.m. on December 24 and offering "Midnight Madness" deals for night owls who shop from midnight to 6 a.m.

"With Christmas falling on a Saturday this year, we think customers have the perception that they have more time to shop and have been procrastinating a bit," spokeswoman Jennifer Albano said in an email. "So we believe that this week ahead will be an especially important one.

"We planned an aggressive promotional cadence for the holiday season, and have been pleased with the sales momentum," she said.

J.C. PENNEY:

The department store chain is trying to help consumers avoid a wasted trip to the store with its "know before you go" program, said Liz Sweney, co-chief merchant.

The program lets shoppers go online to go find out if the product they want is in the store and in the right size.

"They don't want to run around like crazy at the last minute," Sweney said of shoppers.

The retailer did not see a bigger lull after Black Friday weekend this year, but expects more last-minute shoppers because Christmas Eve is on a Friday this year, Sweney said.

One new thing the company is offering this year is a "Pick Your Day" event, which gives shoppers a 20 percent discount on any single day from December 19 through December 24.

(Additional reporting by Phil Wahba and Dhanya Skariachan in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)

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