Stores Pulling Out All the Stops

In the last week of the all-important holiday shopping season, stores are pulling out all the stops — and pulling every stunt imaginable — to get customers to buy their stuff. 

Twice as many consumers as last year have waited until this week to start shopping — some 7 percent, as opposed to 3 percent last year, according to the 2001 American Express Retail Index on holiday shopping. 

Not surprisingly, more men than women describe themselves as "last-minute" shoppers, 18 percent versus 7 percent. And those in the Northeast are most likely to have waited until the last minute, said American Express. 

Because this shopping season has been one of the worst on record for retail sales, waiting until the last minute could be profitable for consumers. 

Retailers, hesitant about holding high inventory levels at the end of the year, have gone crazy with markdowns and special promotions. 

Department stores like Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Lord & Taylor are offering additional percents off already marked down merchandise. In addition, the retailers are offering coupons that allow shoppers to take even more off. 

High-end store Barneys New York is heading into its second markdown of designer apparel. Starting tomorrow, shoppers can save 50 to 60 percent on designers like Katayone Adeli, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry and Paul Smith. 

At tony women's retailer Henri Bendel, consumers can save a bundle on posh presents. All Henri Bendel merino and cashmere sweaters are 50 percent off, as are day and evening dresses, boots and all holiday decorations and food. Handbags and jewelry, all vintage clothing and coats (excluding shearlings) are 30 percent off. 

Though overall sales for the season are expected to increase 2 percent, same-store sales to date have shown a modest 1.8 percent increase, according to Telecheck. 

"We're expecting to exceed our 2 percent forecast," said Bill Ford, senior economic advisor at Telecheck. "The busiest days are coming this weekend. Saturday, Dec. 22, will be the biggest day, and Friday, Dec. 21, will be the second biggest." As usual, "there will be a surge at the end," he added. 

Consumers can take 25 percent off all outerwear at J. Crew. Also at the preppy retailer, all Shetland wool sweaters are $29.50, down from $38, and shoppers can save 20 percent if they buy any two items in its "so j.crew" bath and body products line. 

At J&R Music and Computer World, consumers can buy a Sharp Notebook with Pentium 3 for $999, versus $1,700 on the Sharp Web site. A Toshiba DVD with 5-disc changer and MP3 compatibility is on sale for $200, down from $250. And starting on Thursday, J&R will pay the sales tax on three select Bose surround-sound home theater packages with DVD players. 

The Wiz will extend business hours starting Saturday. The stores will be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday, and from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Christmas Eve. The store will offer special "Early Bird" discounts from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday in addition to offering zero percent financing through March 2003 on purchases of $299 and up, with no money down. 

Kmart is starting a marathon shopping session as of Thursday. The chain's stores open at 6 a.m. on Thursday and will stay open 110 hours straight until Christmas Eve Monday at 8 p.m. Customers will find deals like 70 percent off all fine jewelry, 25 to 40 percent off holiday decorating items and tableware, and two-for-$1 Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars.