With apologies to Charles Dickens, if you’re a retailer, it’s the best of times, the worst of times.
Retailers big and small are fighting through the longest recession since World War II, and yet here comes the Christmas selling season, which normally is the time to make bank.
Retail analysts are split about whether retailers will have a decent year. Consumers still are scrimping, even though the recession has officially ended. Uneasiness about job security means shoppers are more reluctant to spend.
Gas prices are still too high, people still are being laid off.
But is that enough to dampen holiday spending?
Many eyes are focused on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, since it traditionally kicks off the selling season. It’s one of the busiest shopping days of the year, but it’s not THE biggest day. It lost its top spot several years ago when the Saturday preceding Christmas claimed the title.
Still, traffic is heavy, and bargain-hunting shoppers are looking for deals.
But as you’ve probably seen, retailers are rolling out Black Friday specials already, trying to lure customers early and often with deals that are too good to let pass.
Speaking of deals, many shoppers are going back to layaways. Read Carlie’s story on this page to find out more.
Layaways are a convenience that are gaining popularity again. Put some money down on some items that you may not be able to afford all at once, pay on them over time, then get them out when you’re ready.
But a fee is usually charged for the service because it takes time and effort to get merchandise in and out of layaway.
If you’re on the retail side of things, you realize that what might be convenient for shoppers isn’t necessarily convenient for you.
Perhaps one reason Walmart did away with its layaway program was the massive size of it. Remember how Walmarts used to have dozens of trailers parked around the building?
They were used to store layaways because keeping all of it inside the store became an impossibility.
And remember how long it took sometimes for you to get your layaway because the employee had to march to the back 40 to dig through a trailer full of stuff?
Labels with detailed information about the location of your precious layaways helped, but employees still had to search.
Then there’s the predicament retailers faced when customers canceled their layaways. Sometimes that hot toy that everybody was looking for was stuffed in a box or plastic bag in layaway.
So retailers added restocking fees as one way to make sure customers got their items. And they put a deadline on how long you could hold merchandise in layaway.
But whether it’s Black Friday specials a month early or having handy programs like layaway available, how retailers fare during the holiday selling season will depend on our willingness to part with our money.
And once the buying is done and the numbers are tallied, we’ll know if retailers face a spring of hope rather than a winter of despair.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal