Start Making A List, Checking It Twice

Stores Roll Out 'Christmas In July' Sales To Generate Business

July 21, 2009|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,andrea.walker@baltsun.com

Retailers looking to draw consumers to their stores during the slow economy are trying to get shoppers to think like it is the Christmas season, when stores offer some of the best deals of the year.

They're looking to woo people with "Christmas in July" sales that they say are as good as the bargains in November and December.

The summer Christmas sale concept isn't a new one, but it has evolved to include more than just holiday merchandise as retailers look for ways to bring in customers during the slow period right before the back-to-school season, retail experts said. The strategy may take on even more meaning this year as retailers try everything they can to get increasingly frugal customers to shop during the recession. Some stores are holding such sales this year for the first time.

"Retailers are looking for another way to entice customers to their stores, other than just a regular sale," said Cheryl Bridges, director of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University.

The retailers say the economy isn't their main motivation, but that they're looking at ways to provide more value.

The Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards decided to have the sale because there aren't as many Orioles home games this year, meaning fewer shoppers. Their sale, which started July 16 and runs through July 31, features deals such as Yankees hats discounted 50 percent and 25 percent off most outerwear.

"We were trying to generate more people coming in," said John Hein, director of business development for the baseball-themed store.

The holiday is an important time of the year, accounting for 20 percent to 30 percent of sales for many retailers. This has led retailers to put out their Christmas merchandise earlier and earlier in recent years. Last Christmas was slow, and retailers might be trying to get a leg up on the competition with the July sales.

It could be a good strategy. About 56 percent of consumers would shop a "Christmas in July" sale, according to a survey by America's Research Group.

"It's may seem a little hokey to do Christmas in July, but it works," said Britt Beemer of America's Research Group. "People like the gimmick."

Toys 'R' Us began a weeklong "Christmas in July" sale Sunday. It is the first time the toy retailer has held a promotion around the theme, which it is publicizing with a circular featuring Santa relaxing under a palm tree wearing summer gear. There will be a holiday-themed celebration Saturday in stores, where kids can make their own Christmas cards, play games and munch on candy canes.

The store will have deals on toys normally reserved for later in the year. Shoppers can save $100 on a Hannah Montana Malibu Beach House or 50 percent off a Razor "A" Kick Scooter.

"It's really about providing ongoing value to our customers throughout the year," said Bob Friedland, a spokesman for the toy company.

On July 5, Sears.com and Kmart.com launched an online boutique called Christmas Lane, where shoppers can start buying items from the retailers' Christmas selections. Sears Holdings, which owns both retailers, also set up Christmas shops at 372 Sears stores, including several in Maryland. Shoppers can buy items such as Christmas ornaments now or put them on layaway to be paid over time and in time for Christmas.

But other retailers think it best to leave Christmas where it is. A spokesman for Williams-Sonoma, which also owns Pottery Barn, said that shoppers don't want to see holiday merchandise too soon.

"We don't roll out holiday merchandise until late in November," said Leigh Oshirak, a spokeswoman for the company. "Customers like to go in order. They like to celebrate Halloween before Christmas."

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