Stores put on push to save the season

Pedestrians walk by sale signs in the window at the Virgin Megastore in San Francisco.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Despite this being a day run wild with consumerism in many homes across the country, retailers are suffering a massive holiday hangover this year. They're still stuck with huge piles of unsold inventory. Which has stores paying the price for the worst holiday sales figures in decades.

From Washington, Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Retailers have to buy their inventory 6 to 12 months ahead of time. It really is Christmas in July.

Sara Johnson is a retail analyst with IHS Global Insight. She says stores didn't over-order.

SARA JOHNSON: Retailers had been fairly cautious in planning for the holiday season. But sales just fell off a cliff.

A mountain of unsold clothing, jewelry and electronics was left behind. Computers, cameras, cell phones and flat-panel TVs had less appeal than usual for the gadget obsessed. And it wasn't just the price.

Marshall Cohen follows retail for the NPD market research group.

MARSHALL COHEN: This year, much of what's going on in electronics are repeats of last year. So if I got you a digital camera last year, odds are I'm not going to get you another one this year.

Stores chipping away at mountains of merchandise are getting creative. Take JC Penney. It's pinning its hopes on teenagers armed with Christmas cash and gift cards. It's even offering 5:30 a.m. wake up calls tomorrow morning. Now, I don't know about you, but if the teens in my life got a call at 5:30, they'd boycott the store. But Cohen thinks it might work -- and not just for teens.

COHEN: The teenager is bringing, in many cases, another member of the family -- what I call the wallet -- mom or dad.

Of course, it'll take a crowbar to open that wallet. Retail analyst Patrick McKeever of MKM Partners says stores are settling in for a long, hard winter.

PATRICK MCKEEVER: It'll take at least a quarter or so before the supply meets the demand.

And this Christmas in July could be ugly. McKeever says retailers will slash their orders for 2009 holiday merchandise.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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