Stores scramble to salvage season by pleasing bargain-hungry shoppers

Price cuts such as those being advertised outside an H&M in New York, are likely to be deepened as retailers try to salvage the holiday season.
Price cuts such as those being advertised outside an H&M in New York, are likely to be deepened as retailers try to salvage the holiday season.

Bargain-hungry Americans will need to go on a post-Christmas spending binge to salvage this holiday shopping season.

Despite the huge discounts and other incentives that stores offered leading up to Christmas, U.S. holiday sales so far this year have been the weakest since 2008, when the nation was in a deep recession.

So stores now are depending on the days after Christmas to make up lost ground: The final week of December can account for about 15 percent of the month’s sales, and the day after Christmas is typically one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Store executives, who typically don’t talk about their plans for sales and other promotions during the season, are known for offering discounts of up to 70 percent after the holiday. This year, they’re hoping to lure more bargain hunters who held off on shopping because they wanted to get the best deals of the season.

The Macy’s in Herald Square in New York was bustling with markdowns of up to 70 percent off Wednesday.

Ulises Guzman, 30, a social worker, said he waited to shop until the final days before Christmas, knowing that the deals would get better as stores got more desperate. He said he was expecting discounts of at least 50 percent.

The strategy worked. He saw a coat he wanted at Banana Republic for $200 in the days before Christmas but decided to hold off. On Wednesday, he got it for $80.

“I’m not looking at anything that’s original price,” he said.

Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta was crowded by midday Wednesday. Laschonda Pitluck, 18, said that last year she spent more than $100 on gifts but this year she’s kept it under $50. She found clothes for 50 percent off Wednesday.

So far, holiday sales of electronics, clothing, jewelry, and home goods in the two months before Christmas increased 0.7 percent over last year, according to the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report, which called it the weakest holiday performance since 2008, when sales dropped sharply.

The SpendingPulse statistics released Tuesday, which capture sales from Oct. 28 through Dec. 24 across all payment methods, are the first major snapshot of holiday retail sales.

A clearer picture will emerge next week as retailers such as Macy’s and Target report monthly sales.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, said Wednesday it is sticking to its forecast that sales in the November and December period will be up 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion this year.

That’s more than a percentage point lower than the growth in each of the past two years, and the smallest increase since 2009, when sales were up 0.3 percent.

Kathy Grannis, a spokesman for the group, noted that its definition of holiday sales includes food and building supplies.

“Stores have a big week ahead, and it’s still too early to know how the holiday season fared, at this point,” she said.