Most big retailers count on the fourth quarter to produce the year’s highest sales. But this year’s fourth quarter might be one of the worst in memory, retail representatives say.
“There’s no question: This is one of the most challenging times we’ve seen in our history,” said Brooke White, a spokeswoman for Seattle-based Nordstrom Inc.
While most retailers will have strong Black Friday sales and busy stores this weekend, the major challenge will be to sustain consumer buying through December, White and others said.
Spokane-area and national retailers have wide-ranging plans and schemes to spur customers to buy.
At Kits Camera stores on Tuesdays and Thursdays through Dec. 25, shoppers can print digital photos for 5 cents apiece. “That’s one way to draw traffic to our stores and then hope people look at our specials,” said company spokesman Evan DeVita.
Spokane’s Dodson’s Jewelers is mailing $120 coupons to its most loyal customers, in part to celebrate the company’s 120th year. And holiday gift buyers can donate up to 5 percent of their Dodson’s purchase to a charity, company President Penn Fix said.
The coupon offer is meant to boost store visits, while the donations are “an acknowledgement that we’re a community-based company and it’s appropriate that we help people here,” Fix said.
Down the street, Spokane electronics retailer Huppin’s HiFi, Photo and Video is unleashing a month’s worth of price cuts on the company’s main products: TVs, digital cameras and Blu-ray DVD players.
President Murray Huppin said retail store shoppers will find some items marked down lower than they are on the company’s Web site, OneCall.
The store’s Black Friday specials, he said, will continue all weekend. “You won’t need to get up at 4 a.m. Friday to get doorbusters from us,” he said.
Sears is trying to lure customers with a “golden wish” sweepstakes at stores across the country. Through Dec. 24, shoppers who find a wish ticket can win prizes. Like Kmart, Sears also restarted a layaway plan, allowing cash-strapped shoppers to hold an item and pay for it by Dec. 23.
Staples launched a coupon sweepstakes in which customers can go to a Web site to see if they qualify for a full refund of their recent purchase.
Retailers are also underlining their discounted prices, hoping customers grab good deals. “This year we know customers are looking for value,” said John Shasky, senior general manager at NorthTown Mall.
Shopko has revised its traditional buy-one, get-the- second-at-40-percent-off approach. West Coast Vice President Alice Mainer said the store is offering buy-one, get-the-second-one- free for many items in men’s and women’s apparel.
Sandpoint-based Coldwater Creek is using price-based marketing like never before, said Dan Moen, senior vice president for marketing.
The women’s clothes retailer is e-mailing $30 coupons to regular customers.
At competitor Nordstrom, price cutting and marketing are driving this year’s holiday effort, White said.
“We have really sharpened our prices on select items. Nordstrom has lowered prices on more than 800 products by an average of 22 percent,” she said. “This is not a change in our strategy,” she added. “We just want to pass our savings onto our customers.”
Despite retailers’ efforts, some consumers insist they’re not about to pretend this is a normal shopping season.
“I’ll do selective shopping this year,” said Rachael Rudd, a retail department manager at Spokane’s NorthTown Mall. “Those of us in our family will stop doing an extended gift exchange. It’s just too expensive.”
Consumer spending generally accounts for about two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity, according to industry studies.