Storm Over, Game On: Retailers Ready To Rip

by , Nov 3, 2012, 1:59 PM
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HolidayShoppingWith Sandy outages fading from the headlines as fast as Halloween, the retail industry is loading up for the holidays, pushing the fourth-quarter envelope in every possible direction. 

In more evidence that Black Thursday is turning into the new Black Friday, Sears now says it will be open at 8 o’clock Thanksgiving evening, staying open overnight until 10 p.m. on Black Friday. (Its Kmart stores have opened on Thanksgiving for decades, and this year will open from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m., and then from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.) In recent years, Walmart and other retailers have been opening late Thanksgiving evening as well. Last year, the trend even sparked some employee protests. 

And Target is upping its gift-card game in novel ways, adding lights and even sounds.

Consumers have the calendar to thank for many of these innovations. This year, retailers are getting a bonus: There are 32 shopping days between Black Friday and Christmas, the greatest possible number. And while ShopperTrak is forecasting that national retail sales will rise 3.3% during November and December (with foot traffic climbing just 2.8%), it says the two “extra” weekends will require many stores to shift their strategies a bit. 

Certainly, it expects that Black Friday will be the biggest shopping day of the year, and points out that last year, sales rose 6.6% to $11.4 billion. And as has been true in recent years, “Super Saturday” -- the last Saturday before Christmas, falling on Dec. 22 this year -- will come in as the season’s second-biggest day. The preceding Saturday, Dec. 15, will again come in third.

But it now predicts that the Friday before the holiday, Dec. 21, will jump from eighth-biggest day of the year to the fourth, and that the final Sunday (Dec. 23) will become the fifth-biggest day, moving up from the sixth. 

“Those 32 days provide extra time for consumers to shop more frequently and to visit more stores during the holidays,” says Bill Martin, ShopperTrak founder, in its forecast. “But retailers must prepare to capitalize on the holiday opportunity while managing the increase in operating costs that go hand-in-hand with extended store hours on more shopping days.”

Gift cards offer chains important calendar advantages as well. Now a $100 billion market, they guarantee that lucky recipients will bring them in the days and weeks after the holidays, which helps stores’ sales in January. (They help in other ways too: TowerGroup has estimated that as many as one-third of gift card redeemers actually go over the amount of the card. And in some states, stores are allowed to keep the “breakage” of cash generated by unredeemed cards.)

Target is hoping its new WOW! cards generate plenty of enthusiasm. One plays “Joy to the World,” and in yet another, a bear wears a sweater that lights up. The Minneapolis-based retailer is offering another first this year, enabling customers to use the in-store gift card displays to send digital gift cards. (The market for e-gift cards is expected to reach $11 billion by 2014.) Mobile cards are also available, and by scanning barcodes, people can turn any Target gift card into a mobile one.

It’s even adding features to make that option more tempting, with one version offering a QR code that can be converted to “Santa’s Sleigh Ride,” an online game.

Holiday Shopping from Shutterstock

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