NEW YORK – Looking at their worst shopping season in a decade, stores slashed prices even further Wednesday and nervously waited for shoppers, some of whom rose early to take advantage of the offers.
"I'm shopping for next year. You shop for next year and put it away,'' said Carol Baldwin, minutes before the doors were opening for the Macy's post-Christmas sale at 7 a.m. at the Colonie Center Mall, near Albany, N.Y.
"Everyone had such good sales before Christmas,'' said Sally Moore-Rafferty of Selkirk, N.Y., who was buying Christmas wrap and other holiday items for next year. They had been on sale at 50 percent off before, and Macy's advertised an additional 10 percent off.
Keesha Wright, from Camden, N.J., was on the hunt for a 25-inch television for herself at Target. Wright said they normally go for about $260, so she was pleased to find one for $199.99.
"$199 is perfect,'' said Wright. "I'm probably going to take it home with me.''
Jeannie Bauer from Maple Shade, M.J., was buying decorations in the morning, but she expected to get some clothing later in the day for her 20-year-old son as a late Christmas gift. "I held off because I knew he could get more after Christmas,'' Bauer said.
Shoppers have already been stunned by discounts this year, boasting about the deals at such stores as Gap Inc.'s Old Navy, where some bought T-shirts for $1.99 and heavy jackets for $6.99. Some handbags at Federated Department Stores Inc.'s Macy's flagship store at New York's Herald Square were slashed in half, and leather planners were selling for $12, a third of their regular price.
But with a disappointing pre-holiday shopping season behind them, retailers are setting their sights on the post-Christmas selling period, slashing already discounted prices even further and on a wider range of products to draw shoppers back to stores.
Macy's post-Christmas sales blitz includes 50 percent discounts on furs, men's suits and sportswear, and men's sweaters. Toys R Us was offering discounts of up to 80 percent.
The seven days leading up to the New Year typically account for about 10 percent of total holiday sales, but this year those results were more important than usual. Merchants are hoping the deals attract enough business to recoup some of the sales lost earlier in the season. They also need to make room for spring goods, which start coming in at the end of the month.
But even if sales are brisk this week, it probably won't be enough to save retailers from their worst shopping season in a decade.
"Retailers have to be concerned with getting their stores ready for the spring selling season, and they must sell everything by mid to late January - no matter what the cost,'' said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C.
Beemer noted that retailers don't want to repeat the mistakes of a year ago, when they couldn't move merchandise fast enough. "A lot of retailers were still having clearance sales in February, and couldn't bring in their spring merchandise,'' he said.
Many stores had cut back on holiday inventories because of the slowdown, but those efforts weren't enough. As a result, many retailers began discounting early.
The markdowns intensified as Christmas approached, with some stores offering discounts on selected items at up to 75 percent off, typical of what customers would find during post-holiday sales. Some of the biggest sales were for sweaters, coats and other heavy winter apparel, sales of which were slow because of warmer-than-usual weather.
Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, based in Upper Montclair, N.J. expects there will be even more "discounts galore.''
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.