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Retailers, malls extending hours in days before Christmas

Published December 17, 2012 6:19 pm

Retail • Promotions and deals in Utah, U.S. aim at salvaging holiday season.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A slowdown in sales after a promising start to the holiday season is prompting retailers and malls to extend hours in Utah and nationally, and the effort could push some to offer discounts of 70 percent off or more.

On Friday, Toys R Us is opening all its stores for 88 straight hours until Christmas Eve. And, for the first time, starting Friday Macy's is staying open at most stores for 48 hours nonstop as merchants close in on the final weekend before Christmas Day, which falls on Tuesday.

The news was welcomed by Marilyn Bowen of Salt Lake City, who said she probably will drop by a Macy's location "because I travel a lot, and the extended hours are convenient."

In the Salt Lake Valley, mallsalso will be extending hours.

Starting this week, Fashion Place Mall in Murray is opening at 8 a.m., two hours earlier than normal and is staying open through Saturday an hour later, until 10 p.m. City Creek Center in Salt Lake City and Red Cliffs Mall in St. George will be following suit on Friday, Saturday, Monday and the day after Christmas. In West Valley City, Valley Fair Mall is opening at 8 a.m. on Sunday and Christmas Eve day.

In the rush to woo shoppers, merchants this year are upping the ante in other ways. Banana Republic is giving away six Fiat cars. Kohl's is picking up the tab for a shopper in each of its stores every day until Christmas Eve. And Sport Chalet will have a scuba-diving Santa at some of its stores Saturday.

In order to salvage the season, J.C. Penney and other department stores, which had been offering fewer discounts this season than they did last year, may be forced to offer the kind of heavy discounts that helped boost sales last year, but that also ate away at their profits. That's something stores have tried to resist all season.

Promotions industrywide are down 5 percent, compared with last year, according to BMO Capital, which tracks promotions at about two-thirds of mall stores.

There still are plenty of 30 percent-, 40 percent- and 50 percent-off sale signs in store windows. But stores also have been doing more creative things with pricing to get shoppers to think they're getting a better deal than they really are. This includes offering jeans for $9 instead of $9.99, hoping round numbers will appeal more to shoppers, or selling two shirts for $20 instead of giving shoppers 20 percent off.

"The retailing nation is trying to get off the discounting habit," said Paco Underhill, founder of Envirosell, which studies consumer behavior. "It's just like heroin — the more you do it the more you need to do it."

Across the nation, retailers are scrambling to draw customers into stores and online in the last days leading up to Christmas in the hope that shoppers will deliver a last-minute cash infusion at a crucial time for merchants. After a successful Black Friday weekend that netted a record $59.1 billion in sales, stores have seen an unwelcome drop-off in business.

What happens in the next two weeks may be vital not only for merchants but also for the nation's fragile economic recovery, because consumer spending of all kinds makes up about 70 percent of the activity in the U.S. economy.

With an extra weekend this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, many stores say that traffic has plummeted in the past few weeks as shoppers gave their credit cards a rest after splurging on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Independent boutiques and national retailers alike are anxiously waiting for a surge of shoppers at the very end.

Rebecca Snyder of Bountiful, for one, says that despite the lure of extended hours she won't be shopping in the middle of the night "because I believe it's a hardship on store employees. I don't want to take advantage of them."

But retailers have plenty of shoppers to win over. Nearly a fifth of consumers have yet to start holiday shopping, while 21 percent plan to drop into stores again after taking a break from post-Thanksgiving splurging, the research firm NPD Group estimated.

Both bricks-and-mortar and Web merchants probably will enjoy a boost during the final Saturday, which typically holds the No. 2 spot for top shopping days of the year after Black Friday, said Bill Martin of retail technology firm ShopperTrak —

More hours, more shopping

Many malls locally and nationally are opening earlier and staying open later in the days leading up to Christmas

Some retailers will be open for more than 24 hours straight in the days before Christmas

Various merchants are offering giveaways, such as Kohl's, which is picking up the tab for a shopper in each of its stores every day until Christmas Eve