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Stores push summertime ‘Christmas’ sales

- Associated Press - Monday, July 19, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) -- Santa in the summer?

Retailers are pumping still more energy this year into trying to get shoppers to loosen their purse strings early for Christmas with sparkly ornaments, holiday music and special prices -- in July.

Target Corp. is entering the game for the first time, with a one-day online sale starting Friday on 500 items from clothing to Blu-ray disc players that's modeled after sales typically held Thanksgiving weekend. And Sears and Toys 'R' Us are dramatically promoting "Christmas in July" online based on the success they saw in last year's efforts.

"We really wanted to create that sense of excitement, that sense of urgency," said Target spokeswoman Molly Hanus.

Retailers pushed Christmas promotions as early as September during the recession as they competed for shoppers' dwindling dollars and tried to get them back into stores. Some recession-weary shoppers have been glad to spread out the cost of the holidays, especially if discounts average 40 percent, like Target's. But others may be turned off by the snowflakes and Santas and glitz. And stores are divided as well.

"It's smarter to buy this early," said Ebony Rios, a 17-year-old high school student shopping over the weekend at Toys 'R' Us in Times Square, where a Santa in sunglasses lounged in a swimming pool in one ad. The Clayton, N.C., resident, who said she spent $200 on her nieces and nephews at the store's online summer sale last year, plans to take advantage again this year.

But Tammy Perez, 28, of Bloomington, Ind., wasn't ready.

"It's too hot to think about Christmas," said the administrative assistant, also at Toys 'R' Us on Sunday. "The earliest I will shop will be in October."

Some merchants, including J.C. Penney and shoe.buy.com, agree.

"Customers don't like it when you push Christmas too early," said Mike Boylston, J.C. Penney's chief marketing officer.

That's especially true when shoppers already are putting off buying anything until the moment they actually need it, he said.

Janet Hoffman, global managing partner at Accenture's retail practice, called July holiday sales "a risky bet." Shoppers could be inspired to buy more, but summer promotions also can hurt back-to-school buying and depress December business, she said.

Merchants are taking a variety of tactics:

• Target customers can find a link at Target.com for what the chain is calling "Back in Black," which includes Philips Blu-ray disc players for $99.99 and Liberty of London dresses for $14.99. The 24-hour sale, which starts at 3 a.m. Friday EDT, will not be advertised in Target stores.

• Sears Holdings Corp.'s Sears.com and Kmart.com shoppers are invited to "Christmas Lane" to shop for lights, ornaments and outdoor decor, and the websites temporarily are offering free shipping on all orders worth $39 or more.

• In more than 500 stores, holiday tunes will be playing at least through July 25 in the seasonal aisles, where customers can touch holiday merchandise such as stuffed animals, ornaments and light-up porcelain houses. Last year's "Christmas in July" included 200 stores.

• Toys 'R' Us is promoting its summertime discounts more heavily than last year with deals of the day and free shipping through Saturday.

Natalie Norris-Howser, spokeswoman at Sears Holdings, said the company's summertime holiday promotions did "very well" last year and it may extend the sale as they did last year to appeal to cautious consumers.

"They're people in general that don't have the expendable cash," she said. The event allows shoppers to see what's going to be available so they can budget or put items on layaway, she said.

But many other Americans are in the same situation as Isabel Velazquez, 39, a Toys 'R' Us shopper who said she can't think about spending right now.

"I just got laid off," Ms. Velazquez, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., said.

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