NEW YORK (AP) — This holiday season, Burger King won't be the only place where you can have it your way.
It used to be enough for stores to promise discounts up to 70 percent to lure shoppers during the busy holiday period. But the ease of ordering online and the sluggish economy changed that. Americans are no longer impressed by discounts alone. Now they want their shopping just like their fast food: not only cheap, but convenient too.
That means they're no longer afraid to walk away from the cashmere sweater with the perfect fit if the store is crowded. They're unwilling to buy those suede pumps in just the right shade of blue if shipping costs extra. And they cringe at the prospect of carrying around paper coupons; they'd rather pull them up electronically on smartphones.
Retailers from Wal-Mart to Macy's are doing everything they can to make it easier for more finicky shoppers to spend during the holidays. Several are opening on Thanksgiving Day. Some are offering free layaway and shipping. Many are matching in-store prices with cheaper online deals. Others are allowing shoppers to buy online and pick up their merchandise in stores.
It's the latest effort by stores to court shoppers like Patty Edwards of Bellevue, Wash. Four years ago, Edwards made all of her holiday purchases online through Amazon because she thought it was the easiest way to shop. But this year, she plans to go elsewhere because stores are offering more shipping options.
"Now I'm not necessarily tied to Amazon," said Edwards, a retail analyst and principal at investment firm Trutina Financial. "I can go to Nordstrom, Saks or Target and have stuff available to pick up. It's a pretty simple process. That wasn't the case four or five years ago." The have-it-your-way approach is partly a response to fear. Merchants are concerned that shoppers will spend less freely this season because of worries about high unemployment and a package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff," which will take effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal. The changes also come as the growth of smartphones and tablet computers has made it easier to browse and buy with the touch of a fingertip.
That puts pressure on brick-and-mortar retailers, which count on holiday shopping for up to 40 percent of their annual revenue, to get shoppers into stores. It's becoming an increasingly difficult feat: The National Retail Federation estimates that overall sales in November and December will rise 4.1 percent this year, below last year's 5.6 percent growth. But the online part of that is expected to rise 17 percent, according to research firm comScore.
"Retailers have to do a little more to grow sales this year," said Frank Badillo, a senior economist at consultancy Kantar Retail.
This isn't the first time stores have had to up the ante. As Americans cut back on spending during the economic downturn, merchants ramped up their already deep discounting.
Shoppers became addicted to the ever bigger sales, and they began fleeing to online retailers, which can offer much cheaper prices because they don't have the same overhead costs to operate brick-and-mortar locations. Plus, websites offer the convenience of shopping in the comfort of homes or office cubicles.
To better compete, brick-and-mortar stores concluded that they would have to replicate their online rivals' formula. Shopping needs to be cheap and easy, they figured. So stores began trying new ways to make shopping more convenient last year, such as free shipping and expanded hours.
This holiday season, they've expanded the scope and scale of those incentives to include:
-- EXPANDED HOURS FOR SHOPPERS WHO CAN'T WAIT TO HIT THE MALL: Stores often open in the wee hours of the morning on the day after Thanksgiving Day, which is typically the biggest shopping day of the year. But the Black Friday openings crept earlier and earlier over the past few years. Then retailers such as Macy's Inc. began opening at midnight. This season, some stores have expanded their hours even more. Sears, Toys R Us and other stores are opening on Thanksgiving evening to grab those who want to shop after their turkey dinner. Wal-Mart is starting Black Friday sales at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, two hours earlier than last year.
-- MORE SHIPPING AND RETURN OPTIONS FOR SHOPPERS WHO COVET CONVENIENCE: About 44 percent of retailers are offering free shipping this year, a jump from 12.5 percent last year, said Vicki Cantrell, executive director of Shop.org, the National Retail Federation's digital retail division that tracks retailers' online offers. And UPS said retailers also are working to make returns easier by including return labels in packages or providing a link online that customers can use to print labels.
Additionally, some stores, including Best Buy Co., Toys R Us and Wal-Mart, are offering customers the option of ordering online and then picking up merchandise in stores.
Danny de Gracia, a political scientist in Honolulu, likes using that option to avoid the hassle and crowds in stores. Gracia, who said he plans to spend no more than $1,000 this holiday season, last used the service to buy a Sony digital camera for his father at Best Buy.
"It's an outstanding service that I utilize whenever possible," he said. "I wish that it would be available for groceries." — LAYAWAY PLANS FOR FINANCIALLY-STRAPPED SHOPPERS: Shoppers have typically been charged a fee for layaway programs that allow them to pay over a period of weeks. But this year, Sears and discount chain Kmart, both divisions of Sears Holdings Corp., ditched the fees, which could be as much as $10 for 12 weeks. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. lowered layaway fees from $15 to $5.
-- PRICE MATCHING FOR SHOPPERS WHO ARE ADDICTED TO DEALS: Small mom-and-pop stores long have offered to match the cheaper prices that customers find online, but this year big merchants such as Target and Best Buy will do the same. It's an attempt to combat the growth of "showrooming," when customers look at merchandise in stores but buy it cheaper online.
--UPDATED SHOPPING APPS FOR SMARTPHONE-TOTING SHOPPERS: Shopping apps for smartphones and tablets have been around since shortly after the iPhone debuted in 2007, but this year retailers are beefing them up. For instance, Macy's is launching a Black Friday portion of its mobile app, which highlights specials and other deals not advertised elsewhere. It also will have maps and information about where in each store Black Friday deals can be found.
The shopping apps are an attempt by brick-and-mortar retailers to hook shoppers like Stefanie Scott of Greenfield, Wis., who plans to spend $1,000 to $2,000 on gifts this year.
Scott starts her holiday shopping by checking out deals on Facebook. Then, she brings her smartphone along on shopping trips and uses mobile apps to get discounts once she's in the store. She's also a fan of offers to buy online and pick up in the store, and recently used one at Best Buy to buy a videogame for her brother-in-law.
"I'm tied to my cellphone," she said. "Coupons and lists get lost in my purse. It's so much easier when I'm shopping to whip out my cellphone and have them scan it. The more I can do on my iPhone, I'm all for it."
Bad economy, high ticket prices make travelers cut back
NEW YORK (AP) — This holiday season, Burger King won't be the only place where you can have it your way.
Film Festival adds screenings to schedule
The Traverse City Film Festival has added screenings of in-demand movies including Woody Allen's "Fading Gigolo" and director Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" to its schedule for next week.Continued ...
Editorial: Exchange students offer a look at wider horizons
The issue: Traverse City schools still looking for families to host Chinese exchange students. Our view: While not for everyone, the exchange experience can be rewarding for students and families alike.Continued ...
Arts & Entertainment in Brief: 07/25/2014
Jacoby exhibit; Too Much Light; Leelanau artists' exhibit. (Plus more)Continued ...
Editorial: Division Street strikes again
By pure luck, the debate over what to do about Division Street doesn’t today include a double pedestrian fatality.Continued ...
Night Life Calendar: 07/25/2014
What's happening after dark:Continued ...
Movie Capsules: 07/25/2014
New this week — And So It Goes: A self-centered realtor enlists the help of his neighbor when he's suddenly left in charge of the granddaughter he never knew existed until his estranged son drops her off at his home. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and drug elements. (GT9)Continued ...
Letters to the Editor: 07/25/2014
Vote for what matters; No benefit to residents.Continued ...
Community helps Cousins repay TCAPS
Community members and a handful of Traverse City Area Public Schools employees and board members helped former TCAPS superintendent Stephen Cousins repay the district, according to TCAPS records.Continued ...
TCAPS reimbursed ahead of schedule
Community members showed their support for Traverse City Area Public Schools’ former superintendent Stephen Cousins by way of their pocketbooks.Continued ...
They're going to Lovett
Six acres of horse park, horse-drawn hayrides and Lyle Lovett, it sounds like a country music match made in heaven.Continued ...
2014 All-Region Baseball teams
The Traverse City Record-Eagle's picks for the 2014 All-Region Baseball teams:Continued ...
Craigslist car sale leads to weapons assault charge
Leelanau County Sheriff's deputies arrested a Cedar man who tried to strike another man with a crowbar after a Craigslist car sale sputtered and stalled, authorities said.Continued ...
Lake Leelanau man arrested after domestic disturbance
A Lake Leelanau man was arrested on two counts of felonious assault after Leelanau County sheriff's deputies responded to a report of a man making threats with a knife.Continued ...
United Way donors can help with grant process
United Way of Northwest Michigan is looking for volunteers to sift through grant applications and decide how to divvy up the available funds of this year's grant cycle.Continued ...
The Record: 07/25/2014
Assumed names filed in Grand Traverse County:Continued ...
Building Permits: 07/25/2014
Building permits issued in Grand Traverse County:Continued ...
Bensley backs off on visitation denial
Grand Traverse County's sheriff backed off his efforts to bar potential media access to a jailed high-profile criminal defendant, but it took a conversation with the county's prosecutor to change his mind.Continued ...
Gomery hearing delayed
Court officials agreed to push back the next court appearance for a local attorney accused of trying to orchestrate a murder-for-hire plot.Continued ...
Swimmers warned against four beaches
Officials issued bacteria warnings for four Grand Traverse Bay beaches after rain and high winds.Continued ...
Film producer pleads guilty
The ex-wife of filmmaker Michael Moore pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor impaired driving charge in 86th District Court.Continued ...
Ceremony will honor 2 Civil War soldiers buried in Kalkaska
Two Civil War soldiers, both Congressional Medal of Honor recipients buried in Kalkaska’s Evergreen Cemetery, will be honored once again for their bravery in a special military ceremony on Saturday.Continued ...
A new place for art
Visitors approaching the Dentolutions offices might mistake the sculpture outside for a giant red, avant garde toothbrush.Continued ...
TCFF's latest free venue is all 'The Buzz'
Harold “Buzz” Wilson was adamant that film should be enjoyed by all and not just those who can afford tickets.Continued ...
Bums win in extras again
The Traverse City Beach Bums have found their comfort zone in extra innings the past two nights.Continued ...
Calling all cowboys and cowgirls
The search is on for a few good cowboys and cowgirls. The Manistee County Fair, which also serves Benzie County, announced it will host a rodeo that’s open to any cowpokes interested in participating in bareback riding, tie down roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, cowgirl’s barrel racing, team roping and bull riding.Continued ...
- Film Festival adds screenings to schedule