Retailers in the United States will pull out all the stops this holiday season in an attempt to urge consumers to open their wallets and pocketbooks a little bit wider. Inundated by mixed signals from an economy that seems to be finally gaining steam but is still far from healthy, plus uncertainty surrounding the upcoming election, U.S. consumers are expected to shy on the conservative side when it comes to their holiday spending.
A survey by BIGinsight projects shoppers will spend only $9 more than the $740 they spent on average last year, while the National Retail Federation anticipates sales growth of 4.1 percent for the season, down from last year’s rate of 5.6 percent.
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However, retailers see consumers as still sitting on the fence, and are preparing to aggressively lure them into spending more with a variety of deals and promotions. Retailers also intend to rollout their specials earlier this year – a move they believe will help encourage shoppers to buy.
Indeed, perhaps more than ever before, retailers are subscribing to the theory that “the early bird gets the worm.” In the case of holiday sales, the worm is that customer standing in the aisle, waffling about whether or not to buy an item that wasn’t initially on his or her list.
In an attempt to sway that shopper into adding the item to the shopping cart, retailers like Sears and Kmart – both operated by Sear Holdings Corp. (NASDAQ:SHLD) – have introduced free layaway programs that will cover Black Friday and online purchases.
“The economy continues to struggle, and what we’re seeing is that consumers are preparing earlier and earlier for the holidays, so they can pay a little bit now, a little bit later,” said Sears Vice President of Financial Services Jai Holtz. “And with free layaway, it allows [consumers] to buy their Furby or TV right now.”
Layaway options are only the beginning. Target (NYSE:TGT) and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) have unveiled bold price matching plans, while Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) will offer online shoppers in select cities the option of same-day delivery.
Retailers hope starting the holiday shopping season earlier will not only boost sales by allowing customers more time to mull over those extra purchases, but will also help keep inventories accurate and avoid post-holiday surpluses by giving retailers more time to gauge consumer demand on popular products.
Even the calendar itself is working to encourage holiday sales – this year will have the maximum possible amount of 32 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.