No gifts for retailers in holiday shopping outlook

Dallas Morning News

September 24, 2009
by Maria Halkias (an excerpt)

Retailers and consumers saw the worst holiday shopping season in four decades last year. The continuing recession has prepared merchants for what is forecast to be the second-worst. Whether that gives them an advantage in their annual game of chicken with shoppers is another matter. Consumers have shown they're willing to wait for markdowns, and retailers have shown they can't resist giving them. So far, early signs of Christmas include forecasts of flat sales and less seasonal hiring, a prediction that online retailers will discount more than last year and the prospect that deep discounts the day after Thanksgiving may not be the only gems of the season. Retailers traditionally go all out on that "Black Friday," with the year's lowest prices for televisions and cameras, $10 gift cards just for walking in the door and early bird discounts before noon. This year, just 35 percent of major chains, vs. 45 percent last year, plan to offer the most promotions on the day after Thanksgiving, according to a survey by Hay Group.

Other retailers said they were shifting their focus and planning to run consistent promotions from "now until New Year's Day," said Maryam Morse, Hay Group's national retail practice leader, based in the firm's Dallas office. "Retailers are responding to consumers wanting more promotions more often," she said, though she added that Black Friday deals would remain compelling enough for shoppers to "get up off their wallets." 

The industry group hasn't released its forecast for the season. But about 72 percent of the 25 top retailers in a Hay Group survey released Wednesday predicted that holiday sales would be about the same as or lower than last year's. Not surprisingly, retailers don't plan to hire as many seasonal workers this year, according to the Hay Group survey. About 57 percent of retailers surveyed said their staffing levels would be smaller than last season's. Retail employment usually peaks in November and December, when stores increase staff for the holiday rush. Last year, retail employment grew by just 384,300 from October through December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That compared with 720,800 retail workers hired during the 2007 holiday months. 

Read more about Hay Group's work in the Retail sector