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Stores innovate for Black Friday

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People count money at Macy’s Herald Square store during Black Friday in New York. REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) – The photo op with Santa Claus has long been a holiday mainstay for American children. But this year, shopping malls in several states are scheduling glamour shots for man’s best friend.

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As the Christmas shopping season kicks into high gear on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, portraits of St. Nick with a family’s beloved dog are just one way retailers are looking to attract customers in the face of exploding e-commerce.

Brick-and-mortar stores have expanded their bag of tricks – and gotten increasingly bold – as they look to lure shoppers who might otherwise be happy to stay on the couch and pick up gifts while still in their pajamas.

The flagship Bloomingdale’s store in New York has held yoga classes, and Nordstrom has displayed Tesla cars near the section for men’s suits.
A number of shops now ply visitors with food and drink.

For the holiday shopping season, malls are hosting gingerbread decorating sessions, visits from the Grinch – Dr. Seuss’s beloved Christmas villain-turned-softie – and ugly Christmas sweater nights.

Temporary ice skating rinks and magical winter decor are also being used to draw customers intent on an in-person holiday experience.
Wal-Mart Stores plans to throw more than 20,000 “holiday parties” at which children can pose for “selfies with Santa.”

“All of these retailers are desperate to get people into their stores,” said analyst Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, who added a note of caution about all the promotions.

“Whether they work or not is open to debate.”

Most experts predict a solid holiday shopping season, with IHS Markit projecting overall sales growth of 4.2 percent to about $685 billion, said Chris Christopher, executive director at IHS.

Online sales are expected to account for 18.3 percent of holiday sales this year, up from 16.8 percent last year, according to IHS.

Surveys show that creating a festive holiday atmosphere is one way to prompt consumers to pocket their smartphones for a few hours and hit the mall.

About a third of consumers said they enjoyed holiday shopping as a family tradition and 23 percent said they most enjoy holiday decorations, said a National Retail Federation survey.

Tourist Karen Boyd, who was visiting New York this week from Palo Alto, California, said she expects to do half of her shopping online and half of it in stores this year.

“The years I’ve done 100 percent online, it doesn’t feel like you’ve done your holiday shopping!” she said.

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