Retailers heap on the glitter

Celebrities, contests, pretty boxes - all to grab buyers' eyes.

Associated Press
Published December 12, 2007

CINCINNATI - Retailers trying to brighten up what looks like a drab period for shopping are rolling out eye-catching packaging, celebrity tie-ins and contests for everything from Hannah Montana tickets to an African safari.

Their challenge: to offset expected low shopper traffic over an extended holiday season by luring consumers into their stores and keeping them there long enough to pick up extra gifts.

With many families on tight budgets and facing high gas prices, this year's holiday shopping traffic was already expected to be slow, and retailers also had an extra week in November because Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 22. Although the Black Friday weekend immediately after Thanksgiving saw strong retail sales, industry reports show a lull since.

"Procrastination is a big factor at this point," said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak RCT Corp. in Chicago, saying the extra week and the weekend just before Christmas, which falls on a Tuesday, adds to shopping delays. "It's sort of like a perfect storm for those who like to wait until the last minute."

ShopperTrak, which monitors sales at more than 50,000 retail outlets, reported Dec. 5 that sales for the week ended Dec. 1 declined 4.4 percent from the year-ago period, the largest year-over-year sales decline since March. Total U.S. shopping traffic, or visits to stores by shoppers, for the same period fell 4.7 percent.

"I think the retailers have got to focus on their promotions to draw that traffic to them, create that sense of urgency," said Mike Brown, a retail strategist with Kurt Salmon Associates.

So how are all the special efforts scoring? Too soon to tell, retailers say.

Fast facts

Luring shoppers

Shopping lull: After a strong post-Thanksgiving Black Friday weekend of hectic sales and bargains, retailers are confronting a shopping slowdown during an extended holiday period leading up to Christmas.

Drawing cards: Retailers are trying eye-catching packaging and displays, contests, discount incentives for returning to stores, and tie-ins with celebrities from Hannah Montana to Martha Stewart to the Spice Girls.

Outlook: Some retail experts think shoppers are putting off finishing holiday shopping until the weekend before Christmas, which falls on a Tuesday, and waiting for more sales.