Consider Caren Leib a barometer of the current economy. She owns two accessory boutiques in Calabasas and Westlake Village and sales are slow.
And now with the holidays coming up, Leib is trying an assortment of tricks to move her $200 diaper bags, $250 Swarovski crystal and gold necklaces and other designer items.
She deeply discounts a different item every week as long as a customer buys one at full price. She's been throwing in gifts with a purchase. And she's even gone so far as to slash 30 percent off ticket prices if customers bring in used clothes to donate to charity.
So far, it's unclear whether the promotions will work.
"Foot traffic is definitely down, and people buy less when they do come in," she said. "I pow-wowed with my manager to think of what we could be do to be proactive and not look desperate like we're on sale all the time. We're trying more creative promotions."
With analysts expecting this holiday shopping season to be the worst in 25 years, retailers both locally and nationally are heavily promoting. Some like Leib are starting them earlier than ever. And bigger outlets are having outsized promotions.
The Northridge Fashion Center and Glendale Galleria malls, for example, are giving away $250,000 in prizes on the day after Thanksgiving so called Black Friday by having patrons participate in quizzes and sing-a-longs. Prizes include 52-inch Sony Bravia flat panel televisions, Acer laptops, $5 Discover gift cards and eco-friendly shopping bags.
With consumer confidence at an all-time low, just getting people into stores is going to be challenging, said Richard Giss, a retail analyst with Deloitte & Touche LLP in Los Angeles.
"You can't sell to somebody who's not there. This year, more than ever, retailers are going to attempt to draw customers in with special in-store events, demonstrations, gift-with-purchase deals or free giveaways. It's going to be a very, very competitive and difficult holiday season for retailers," he said.
Disney Stores, the Pasadena-based retail chain operated by Walt Disney Co., is opening about half its stores at midnight the day after Thanksgiving, luring shoppers with a special discount valid until 10:00 a.m. Disney tried these extreme promotions last year in a few stores and expanded it this year.
The stores are heavily promoting gifts selling for less than $20, many of them from hot Disney brands such as "High School Musical," "Hannah Montana" and "WALL-E."
"The economy is slow and there are challenges in mall traffic, but we think adults will still spend to make their kids feel good, even if they may spend less on themselves or for other adults," said Paul Gainer, vice president of North American retail operations for the Disney Stores.
Anchor Blue, an Ontario-based apparel youth retailer that has 15 Los Angeles County stores, is starting its Black Friday sales two days early on Wednesday. Anchor Blue stores also will open earlier this year on Black Friday some at 4:00 a.m. and promotions will last through the weekend.
The Wednesday-through-Sunday promotion will be called "Blue Friday" and includes giving away $1,000 shopping sprees. Local pop radio station KIIS-FM (102.7) will be at the Anchor Blue store in the Glendale Galleria giving away concert tickets and other prizes. The retailer will be featuring a variety of items for $10 for the first time.
"It's a challenging year for everyone, and our demographic has little discretionary income," said Marla White, director of brand development for Anchor Blue. "We wanted to tap into that. They're also not the demographic that usually goes shopping on (Black) Friday. They usually go on vacation, and we wanted to grab them before they left."
Craig Rowley, a retail analyst with Hay Group Holdings Inc., a management consulting firm based in Philadelphia, emphasized the retailer strategy of offering promotions sooner this year. "If they get you in the store sooner, they get first shot at your wallet," he said.
For the 12 days leading up to Christmas, Siany boutique owner Leib will be holding a drawing to give away a different item each day, ranging from bracelets to handbags. The store will be serving complimentary apple cider, and wine and champagne during trunk shows. And for the first time, Leib is having an after-Thanksgiving sale.
"We have to compete with bigger stores like Neiman Marcus," she said.
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