- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Retailers are luring shoppers with deep discounts, rebates, added incentives and even candy this holiday season. Stores aren't taking any chances, offering sales and promotions way before the 26-day shopping period begins Friday and marking down merchandise even more than usual.
"Consumers are well-trained," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Bank One. "They buy when there are incentives."
Retailers are full of the holiday spirit earlier this year, scrambling with incentives and discounts, with a shorter-than-usual shopping period from the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas.
Racks at Macy's are marked with signs advertising specials of 50 percent to 65 percent off the regular price. With every purchase at New York & Co., formerly Lerner New York, shoppers receive $5 a gift card to be used on their next purchase. J.C. Penney was handing out chocolate bars Saturday with wrappers that revealed coupons for 25 percent to 35 percent off the price of merchandise at all of its 1,061 stores.
Although stores always count on last-minute holiday shoppers, they are likely to see considerably more business before Thanksgiving from people who regularly get an early start, says the International Council of Shopping Centers.
The bigger and better promotions and discounts are drawing consumers who aren't waiting until after-Christmas sales to save money.
"Consumers are responding to early promotions," Ms. Swonk said.
Department stores like J.C. Penney, Sears, Macy's and Hecht's are competing with storewide sales, one-day sales and special promotions.
J.C. Penney has been distributing chocolate-wrapped savings around Thanksgiving for several years.
Hungry consumers flocked to its stores Saturday to unwrap their savings and formed long lines to take advantage of the one-day promotion.
"It's been successful," said J.C. Penney spokeswoman Stephanie Brown, who would not disclose many details about the annual promotion. "It's a great traffic driver and sales driver."
Hecht's is motivating shoppers today by opening at 7 a.m. and closing at 11 p.m. with storewide savings and bonus coupons of 20 percent off.
Sears, which always promotes heavily during the holiday season, has added some specials this year. From Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, shoppers who buy items using their Sears credit cards will be entered in a drawing to win $150,000 worth of gift cards.
Sears also will introduce a list of 35 hot items that will be pushed heavily and offered at discounted prices.
"We've stepped it up a notch," spokeswoman Lee Antonio said.
The company has not cut back on its advertising spending, so consumers will be seeing "a more beefed-up, powerful message," Ms. Antonio said. "There's six less shopping days, so it's more intense."
Best Buy's promotions are at about the same levels as last year, but the company continues to invent "new and exciting promotions," spokeswoman Donna Beadle said.
The electronics superstore is giving away $1,000 a day to someone who uses the Best Buy credit card. On Saturday, the first 500 customers at each of the retailer's 550 stores will receive a Paul McCartney commemorative backstage pass.
Although the pass is not valid for any upcoming concerts, it includes a game piece on the back that could win one of five trips to Liverpool and London, including a tour of Abbey Road Studios, Mrs. Beadle said.
Kmart has marked the start of the Thanksgiving week with four-day sales that end today.
Ms. Swonk says shoppers who wait until the last minute will have a more difficult time finding the right size, color or merchandise. Stores are stocked, but inventories are low.
Retailers also are taking their cue from the automotive industry, which began offering massive deals last year that allowed zero payments and zero-percent financing for months, if not a year, after the purchase.
They are extending holiday offers well into the new year, with no payments due until March and April.
National chains like Shaw's Jewelers and Kay Jewelers are offering free financing for one year and a $100 certificate good for a future purchase for every $300 spent at their stores. Littman Jewelers is giving customers a chance to shop with no down payment and no interest until 2004.
Shoppers "can buy almost anything today" at a zero-percent financing rate or no money down, Ms. Swonk said.
Kay Jewelers, which is part of Sterling Jewelers of Akron, Ohio, has been offering free financing for 10 years, said Richard Miller, executive vice president and chief financial officer.
He said more competitors are doing the same.
Kay is running more ads this year because of the short holiday shopping season, Mr. Miller said.

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