Why toy stores are already fighting for holiday shoppers
Reposted from Cleveland Plain Dealer | by Janet H. Cho
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The calendar says it's still 58 days until Christmas, but major stores like Best Buy, Walmart and Toys R Us are already taking swipes at each other trying to be top-of-mind for holiday toy shoppers.
•Sears, Kmart, Walmart and Toys R Us are touting layaway services for cash-strapped parents.
• Best Buy, Toys R Us and Target are willing to match competitors' prices on select items.
• And every store, it seems, is flaunting its own list of must-have hot toys for the holidays.
Not only are this year's Christmas promotions earlier and louder than ever, they're also noticeably more aggressive, retail experts say, as more stores compete to be the first place where harried parents open their wallets.
Lawrence Ring, business professor at the College of William and Mary's Mason School of Business in Williamsburg, Va., noted that Target made headlines when it aired the first holiday television commercial of the season on Oct. 14 — a full 72 days before Christmas.
"Toys are a good loss leader, because parents, grandparents and other people need to get something anyway."
"The article was called 'Target Decides It's Never Too Early for Christmas Ads,' " he said.
Retailers want to be the first name linked to "Christmas shopping" in the customer's mind, said Sheri Bridges, faculty director of the Center for Retail Innovation at the Wake Forest Schools of Business in Winston-Salem, N.C.
"If a store can get inside the consumer's head before it becomes cluttered with the inevitable holiday 'to do' list, then the great deals, or fantastic assortment, or unique items, or whatever else the retailer is offering just might be top-of-mind when it's time to start shopping, " she said.
Rakesh Niraj, associate professor of marketing and policy studies at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management, noted that retailers "are coming off two to three really soft years, and while there are predictions that it will be a little bit better this year, everybody wants a piece of that 'little-bit-better' pie."
Promotions like layaway and price-matching are exclusively offered in-store as a way to increase foot traffic and "bring them into the store as many times as they can."
The same way supermarkets are willing to take a loss on milk in the hopes that shoppers will fill their carts with other higher-profit foods, retailers dangle attractive toy promotions as a way to bring parents into the store, he said.
"Toys are a good loss leader, because parents, grandparents and other people need to get something anyway," he said.
Some of the hot toys, according to retailers, are Toys R Us' own-branded Tabeo Wi-Fi tablet for kids and Nickelodeon's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Secret Sewer Lair Playset. Walmart's hot toys include Furbys, Leapfrog LeapPads and Monopoly Millionaires. Kohl's hot toys list includes the Fisher-Price Imaginext Pirate Ship and Disney Princess Ballerina Six Doll Set.
American families are expected to spend an average of $750 on the holidays this year, with the vast majority of that — $421.82 — on children and other family members, according to the National Retail Federation.