Retailers welcome Christmas in July

Kai Ryssdal Jul 10, 2009
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Retailers welcome Christmas in July

Kai Ryssdal Jul 10, 2009
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL:You may not believe what I’m about to tell you or you may not want to, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Christmas is here. At least at Sears and Kmart. They’re not doing the full blown thing with trees and Santa Claus, more like extra shelf space full of collectibles for Christmas aficionados.

But still. July?

We called retail analyst Marshal Cohen to try to get some perspective on this. Welcome to the program.

Marshal Cohen: Pleasure to be here.

Ryssdal: I would ask you whether they’re kidding, Sears, putting out this Christmas stuff early, but clearly they’ve got a purpose in mind here.

Cohen: Well, what’s happening is Sears and Kmart clearly are trying to tell the consumer that they’re serious about the holiday and they want to be top of mind. You know, it’s really about race to space, but it’s also about getting the first spend that consumers are even thinking about when it comes to holidays.

Ryssdal: Would it be cynical to say they’re trying to get to the consumers before they run out of money this holiday season? Because we all sort of know it’s going to be tight.

Cohen: No, you wouldn’t be wrong in saying that they’re trying to get to the consumer before they run out of money, because that’s exactly what happened last year and will likely happen again this year.

Ryssdal: So is there a whiff of desperation here?

Cohen: It’s actually kind of clever in recognizing that they’re going to use a minimal amount of space, they’re not going to really maximize this for others, but don’t think that other retailers won’t play this card as well. They may just not be as early as Sears and Kmart are, but they are going to be very serious about trying to push the desperation button.

Ryssdal: Is it going to work though? Are we going to swing by Sears this weekend to pick up this Christmas tchotchkes that we need?

Cohen: I think you have to be a seriously dedicated and devoted Christmas holiday shopper to start thinking about Christmas in the middle of July and really go after those collectibles. It’s really going to be about how do they really market it and I don’t really think that consumers are going to rush out. Especially now that the weather’s finally become summer-like across most of the country.

Ryssdal: Does it make you despair at all for the state of consumer America?

Cohen: It makes me concerned that we are going in the wrong direction. I think retailers have been continually, over the last few years, heading in this direction of trying to get the consumer to spend earlier and out of season and ta ht is something that the consumer is clearly telling us that they don’t’ want to do.

Consumers today particularly with the economy the way it is, they’re looking to spend now, buy now, wear now, use now.

Ryssdal: Do you think it’s possible that you and I will have this conversation next year and it’ll be before the Fourth of July somehow?

Cohen: Last year, it was on Aug. 15. That was two weeks earlier than the year prior to that. Every year, it gets a week or two earlier. This one leap frogged into a month earlier. And will you and I be talking about this next year? Absolutely yes. I would venture to say that we will be talking about how is it possible that Christmas showed up in June. It will.

Ryssdal: Depressing somehow. Marshal Cohen is the chief retail analyst at the NPD Group. Mr. Cohen thanks a lot for your time.

Cohen: My pleasure.

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