By  on December 22, 2000



As if it hasn't been tough enough all year, retailers are under intense pressure this weekend to make up lost ground. They're running behind in their Christmas targets and in most cases the planning was conservative. That means they're in the negatives, and reports are wide-ranging, from negative single digits all the way down to negative 12 or 14 percent.

The bright side: They're expecting consumers to snap out of the deep lethargy that has loomed since Election Day, and hit the stores en masse. Starting today, with any luck, a late surge will sustain itself until New Year's. It could put many retailers back in the plus column. However, according to a Chase H&Q research report issued Thursday, "In most cases we do not expect a last-minute surge to be enough to deliver on-plan results."

"It's going to be extremely violent," predicted Walter Loeb, retail consultant. He thinks the mad crush at retail will start at noon today.

"Stores are down, but it is very hard to judge how far, because of the fact that during the next three days, traffic in the stores will be beyond anybody's capacity to handle the business," Loeb said. "Some customers are going to walk out and not buy."

But the situation's not entirely bleak, Loeb added. "I believe most retailers will achieve satisfactory sales results [for the overall season] by Sunday night, but they are giving away margin dollars to achieve it.

"By the end of it all, sales for department stores will be up by 2 or 3 percent, specialty stores will be up 3 to 4 percent, and discount stores, 5 percent."

As Loeb and others in the industry noted, those sales gains will be attained through desperate measures. For example, Kmart Corp., the nation's third largest retailer, started keeping almost all of its U.S. stores open around-the-clock beginning Thursday. For the first time ever, Kmarts will be open for 86 hours straight, from 6 a.m. Thursday until 8 p.m. Sunday.

"Our insights have told us that with the harried pace leading up to Christmas, coupled with the weather difficulties around the country, consumers just have not had the time to get done what they need to get done before the big day," said Brent Willis, Kmart's chief marketing officer.

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