US retailers in rush to save Christmas sales after storm

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The Independent Online

US retailers sought Monday to stave off a holiday sales disaster after many shops and malls were forced to close for the critical pre-Christmas weekend because of heavy snow.

Some retailers announced extended opening hours to make up for lost sales after the storm blanketed a large swathe of the east coast from Virginia to Maine, notably New York and Washington, in snow.

And online retailers, who looked set to become the biggest winners from the record snowfalls, extended shipping offers to allow consumers to get last-minute gifts by Christmas Eve.

The storm "may put a damper on last minute Christmas shopping, possibly causing more shoppers to use gift cards rather than trek to visit retail stores," said Fred Dickson, analyst at the brokerage DA Davidson & Co.

"We may see some last-minute bargains no one expected ahead of the storm in hopes of making up for lost sales and volume."

Peter Morici, economist at the University of Maryland, said he expected the blizzard to shift some sales to the Internet.

"Overall, fewer items will be purchased but the transactions prices will be higher both owing to a more limited scope of choices for shoppers and more online shipping and handling revenues," he said.

"Retail sales will be somewhat lower but the big story will be the migration to online outlets. Higher transactions prices will compensate, considerably, for smaller volumes."

Some online merchants including Land's End and Overstock.com were promising free or discounted shipping for procrastinators who order Monday or in some cases Tuesday, for delivery Thursday.

Target, one of the largest US retailers, announced Monday that most of its stores in markets affected by the heavy snowstorm along the east coast, will operate extended holiday hours ahead of December 25, from 7 am to midnight.

This includes all stores in the capital Washington and states of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and many stores in Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts.

"We understand that the shopping plans for many of our guests in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast during this weekend before Christmas were affected by the severe storm," said Troy Risch, executive vice president at Target.

"To give these guests more opportunity to make all their holiday purchases, the majority of our stores in hard hit areas will open one hour earlier than originally planned and remain open until midnight."

Retailers are also planning for post-Christmas sales. Target said all stores nationwide will be open from 7 am on December 26 while rival JC Penney said stores would open at 5 am - the earliest opening on the day after Christmas in store history.

In the nation's capital, Washington, federal government agencies were closed for the day after the snowstorm that saw up to 24 inches (61 centimeters) blanket parts of the region on Saturday and Sunday.

But from Virginia north to New York and Maine, residents awoke to clear skies, with the worst of the storm well over as holiday shoppers scrambled to make up for lost time four days ahead of Christmas.

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