Retailers fight for last minute sales, online and in stores

Retailers fight for last minute sales, online and in stores

NEW YORK - Retailers are trying new ways to win over Christmas procrastinators.

Brick-and-mortar chains seeking ways to improve this season's soft sales made it easier for last-minute consumers to finish their shopping on Christmas Eve.

More customers this year will be able to pick up in stores on Tuesday, the last shopping day before Christmas, orders placed online.

For retailers, it can mean lower shipping costs - protecting profit margins - and the potential for more last-minute business when consumers visit.

"There is not a whole lot you can do at the 11th hour, but this is one of the few levers you can pull," said Sucharita Mulpuru, an e-commerce analyst at Forrester Research, about what the industry calls "omni-channel" shopping.

"If they can convince even 1 per cent more customers to come to their stores, that's a big win."

Sales at retail stores, excluding e-commerce, fell 2.1 per cent this past weekend, the busiest of the season, according to data firm ShopperTrak. That came three weeks after a poor showing on Thanksgiving weekend, raising concerns the season is turning out to be a bust.

Stores wouldn't say how much in-store pickup would contribute to sales, but Wal-Mart Stores is offering three times as many products this year as last year that can be picked up in stores under this service.

Target Corp started its in-store pickup service in November for select items, and Macy's Inc is testing it at about 10 Washington, D.C. area stores.

Gap Inc's "reserve-in-store" service, launched in June and expanded before the holiday season, lets shoppers go online to ask one of 600 Gap or Banana Republic stores to hold up to five items. The service was available on Christmas Eve.

Shoppers now visit 3 to 3.5 stores per trip, down from 4.5 to 5 stores in 2007, according to Bill Martin, founder of data firm ShopperTrak. That makes it even more important for retailers to make the best use of their shops.

Another benefit to offering in-store pickup: Shoppers like it. More than 40 per cent of people wanted the relatively new, unknown service, according to a poll for Reuters conducted last week of 3,308 online shoppers by Bizrate Insights.

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