Retailers around the world are slashing prices in the hopes of convincing wary consumers to spend money again, as one survey finds critical holiday sales in the United States fell by as much as four percent this year. But encouraging spending could be a tough sell with so many people worried about the impact of a global recession. And analysts warn of far-reaching consequences if retailers do not succeed.
From Sydney, Australia, where shoppers lined up outside a store waiting to rush inside to the streets of London, consumers are looking for bargains. "Everybody is expecting at least 50 percent off, and that's what they are getting. So there are some good deals," said one shopper.
But the key may be how stores fare in the United States, at a time when Americans like Judd McIntyre of Arlington, Virginia are buying only what they need. "Yeah, I think we expected some sales, but we're not big shoppers anyway. I just bought some necessities. I hadn't bought clothes in quite a few years," he said.
Many U.S. retailers depend on sales in the weeks leading up the Christmas holiday to make a profit for the year. But an industry trade group, the International Council of Shopping Centers, says this could be the worst holiday shopping season in 40 years.
Analyst Candace Corlett with WSL Strategic says the stakes are high. "We are already seeing the international ripple effect of the drop in consumption by American shoppers. The ripple effect goes out to China and to India and to Vietnam where so many of our goods are made," she said.
Retail analyst Marshal Cohen with the NPD Group says stores have few options. "The retailer got caught really with more merchandise than he expected and prices are really the only way that they're going to be able to get the consumer to spend."
U.S. stores, even high-end retailers, are offering deep discounts, some slashing prices by 70 percent.
Some are trying to reach out to consumers with advertising on the Internet. "Still got a few things left on your holiday wish list? Come in and shop our after Christmas sale," said one advertisement.
The store even offered to call consumers to remind them to come in.
Strategic Resource Group Managing Director Bruce Flickinger tells Bloomberg that for many retailers, it may already be too late. "You're going to have a record number of retailers filing for bankruptcy. Big national and multi-regional chains in every sector. You're also going to have thousands of shopping centers also filing for bankruptcy."
But not all retailers are suffering. Internet giant Amazon.com, which ships merchandise to 210 countries, says the 2008 holiday shopping season has been its best ever. Amazon says on December 15, it was taking orders at a rate of almost 73 per second.