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Retailers Ease Purchase Process; Holiday Forecasts Rise

10/14/2012 08:00:00 PM Eastern

HOFFMAN ESTATES, ILL. — Sears and other retailers are enhancing their in-store and multichannel shopping experiences in anticipation of higher holiday sales this year.

Specifically, Sears has begun rolling out mobile point-of-sale devices to its stores nationwide to help speed up the checkout process during the fourth quarter.

The devices, variously used by Costco, The Home Depot, Stop & Shop supermarkets and other retail chains to shorten check-out lines, allow customers to make purchases from anywhere in the store with a credit or debit card. Receipts can be printed, emailed, or both.

The rollout of the handheld devices follows the recent deployment of 500 tablets to Sears and Kmart sales associates. The tablet test features a special shopping app that allows staffers to check inventory availability, access product information and videos, and conduct sales.

In a variation of the easy checkout theme, Target plans to showcase the top 20 toys on the main aisle of its stores which began Oct. 14. The toys will have a QR code that customers can scan with their mobile devices to purchase and ship anywhere in the U.S. at no cost.

Sears and Kmart have also temporarily suspended layaway service fees, and, beginning Nov. 7, customers can have their online layaway purchases shipped to their homes. In addition, the chains will offer prizes, loyalty rewards offers, and stocking-stuffer sales throughout the holiday period.

Parent company Sears Holdings said it has added the shopping enhancements to take advantage of an expected 3.3 percent increase in U.S. retail sales this holiday season, according to ShopperTrak. (See TWICE, Oct. 3, p. 14.)

“Sears and Kmart will win this holiday season because we provide best-in-class layaway options, new in-store mobile experiences for added convenience, exclusive products … and weekly holiday sales for our customers,” said Ron Boire, executive VP/chief merchandising officer and president, Sears and Kmart formats.

Sears, as well as Toys “R” Us, are also flexing their multichannel capabilities this holiday season, which, among other scenarios, allow customers to pick up their online purchases in stores. In-store pick up of online purchases was pioneered by Circuit City and is regularly employed by Walmart, Best Buy and other national chains as a way to leverage their vast brick-and-more-commerce sales.

Like Sears, Toys “R” Us is also offering free layaway this holiday season, as well as a price-match guarantee on most items.

The 3.3 percent holiday sales increase projected by ShopperTrak and cited by Sears is actually conservative compared to the 4.1 percent gain forecast by the National Retail Federation (NRF), to $586.1 billion.

The trade group’s projection exceeds the 10-year average increase of 3.5 percent, but is down from last year’s 5.6 percent seasonal gain.

Fueling the forecast is an anticipated 12 percent increase in online sales, for a total holiday take of nearly $96 billion, according to NRF’s Shop.Org division.

NRF defines holiday sales as total retail sales, excluding restaurants, car dealers and gas stations, during November and December.

“This is the most optimistic forecast NRF has released since the recession,” said Matthew Shay, president of the retail trade association. “In spite of the uncertainties that exist in our economy and among consumers, we believe we’ll see solid holiday sales growth this year.”

NRF expects retailers to hire between Retailers Ease Purchase Process; Holiday Forecasts Rise (continued from page 4) 585,000 and 625,000 seasonal workers this quarter, which is on par with the 607,500 temporary staffers brought on for the holidays in 2011.

Shay added that online retail has been “a bright spot for years and we don’t expect that trend to change anytime soon, especially with the growth in mobile … In addition to enhancing the site experience, retailers have spent the year investing in optimizing their mobile and social platforms, just what holiday shoppers are looking for.”

However, a new consumer survey by market research firm The NPD Group suggests that holiday spending levels will remain largely unchanged from last year.

The poll shows that more than twothirds of consumers, or 67 percent, plan to spend about the same on holiday shopping as they did last year. However, that figure is up 5 percent from last year, while 15 percent fewer people said they will spend less this Christmas. Only 10 percent plan to spend more, up from 9 percent last year.

As for retail venue, CE specialty stores were cited by 17 percent of NPD’s respondents as a planned destination -- tied with outlet stores and warehouse clubs, and flat from last year. Discount chains continue to dominate the field with fully 50 percent of planned visits.

Shoppers are also starting their holiday shopping sooner this year. Sixteen percent had already begun when the survey was conducted in early September, compared to 17 percent last year, and 21 percent plan to start before Thanksgiving, compared to 19 percent in 2011.

According to NPD’s chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen, “While consumer confidence seems to be up, retailers will still face some challenges,” including the distraction of a presidential election. “They will need to develop creative ways to lure shoppers into the stores.”

The poll, “Holiday Survey of Consumer Purchase Intentions,” is based on 3,618 completed consumer surveys.

NPD’s report jibes with another recent holiday survey, this one by comparison shopping site PriceGrabber. More than half of the 2,235 respondents it polled Aug. 31-Sept 12 said they are planning to spend the same amount or more during the 2012 holiday shopping season than last year.

Specifically, 50 percent of consumers plan to spend the same amount that they spent last year – up slightly from 48 percent in 2011 – and 12 percent plan to spend more, a positive increase compared with 7 percent last year.

Of those who indicated that they will spend more this holiday season, 42 percent said they are making more money this year, 34 percent attributed their decision to better prices on gifts, 22 percent said they have confidence in the economy, 13 percent said they will spend more due to an increased credit limit, and 8 percent said they are tired of being frugal.

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