PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- How tough are times at your local retailer? It all depends on how much holiday spirit they're showing this summer.
We haven't even reached Labor Day yet and the nation's more desperate retailers are already trying to tap into a shallow supply of holiday shoppers. Costco (COST) is just getting Halloween costumes onto its racks and Home Depot (HD) and Lowe's (LOW) are just now slapping clearance prices and patio furniture, but that isn't stopping some of their competitors from leaping right over back-to-school and Halloween sales and getting right to Black Friday.
Last month, Target (TGT) held its "Black Friday In July" event over a span of three weekends to not only clear out summer clothes and bedding, but to woo customers with low-priced Samsung televisions and Dyson vacuums. Best Buy (BBY) held its own Black Friday event during the last week in July to unload some of its electronics stock. Sears (SHLD), meanwhile, showed no such restraint and held a online-only "Black Friday" event in May.
What do all of those stores have in common? A steep and seemingly endless decline. Sears has closed 80 of its flagship and Kmart stores this year, spun off its Land's End and recorded its 29th-consecutive quarterly loss. That's more than seven years of straight-up losses. Best Buy, meanwhile, continues to watch same-store sales decline as its efforts to turn its big-box electronics stores into mini malls for its best brands continues to fall short. Target has continued its descent from cheap-chic U.S. retail darling of the '90s and earl 2000s to a faceless discounter as same-store sales drop and a data breach further tarnished the store's shabby post-recession image.
Sadly, news wasn't all that better for these three companies in the fourth quarter of 2013 -- you know, when they held their actual "Black Friday" sales on Thanksgiving day. With the battle for those big fourth-quarter holiday shopping dollars backfiring spectacularly, their plan now seems to involve spreading holiday cheer over as many quarters as possible.
Good luck with that.
According to Google Consumer Surveys, only 49% of all potential holiday shoppers had even begun thinking of doing their holiday shopping by this time last year. Of those, 9% said they would begin shopping before Labor Day. Another 21% said they would start checking off holiday wish lists by Halloween. That's 30% of all active holiday shoppers hitting stores and Web sites before November, but only a sliver hunting for gifts while notebooks and pens still fill the seasonal aisles.
The folks at market research firm Deloitte are somewhat less optimistic. Deloitte still had 30% off all holiday shoppers starting their search before Black Friday, but only 6% had begun checking their lists before October. Even then, only 14% of shoppers surveyed said they would seriously consider holiday shopping before Halloween.
However, the market research laid out last year by Accenture found that, of the 48% of people who began their holiday shopping by Thanksgiving, 25% started shopping in October or earlier. Retailers like Costco and Nordstrom, whose financials were looking just fine when they opted out of Thanksgiving day Black Friday events last year, may be content to let those little packs of consumers roam free. However, after Amazon (AMZN) recorded a 20% spike in net sales during the 2013 holiday season on its way to a $239 million profit, struggling retailers shouldn't be blamed for wanting a few more holiday gifts for themselves.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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