Retailers Push Post-Christmas Discounts to Shore Up Seasonal Sales

Sears Has Dismal Holiday Period, Announces Store Closures

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Consumers across the U.S. took advantage of discounts on the day after Christmas, which this year was a holiday and a potential boon to retailers aiming for a strong finish to the shopping season.

As they have throughout the season, retailers continued to discount and keep stores open longer than ever. Almost all 600 Toys R Us U.S. locations were to remain open from Dec. 20 to Christmas Eve -- 112 hours straight.

Family Dollar Stores, based in Matthews, N.C., operated on Christmas for the first time, opening about half of its 7,000-plus stores from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Many chains opened early yesterday, too. Target swung open its doors at 7 a.m., an hour earlier than usual.

"It's not going to be a gangbusters Christmas," said Chris Christopher, an IHS Global Insight economist. "People are not doing that well. What's happening with personal income and consumption is disheartening."

Final retail sales reports aren't due out until Jan. 12. Holiday sales are expected to rise 3.8%, compared with a 5.2% advance last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Sales at Sears Holdings fell well below those figures, however, with total same-store sales down 5.2% in the eight weeks ended Dec. 25, according to a statement. As a result, fourth-quarter earnings will be less than half of the $933 million in the same period last year, the company said.

Sears, which has reported 18 straight quarters of declining sales, said today it will close as many as 120 stores to reduce costs. The retailer has already closed 171 of its large U.S. stores since merging with Kmart in 2005. Sears has more than 4,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada.

"They are not making the investments in the stores, so customers are not coming," said Gary Balter, an analyst with Credit Suisse Group in New York. "There is this philosophy that you don't need to make as much of an investment in the stores if you have a brand. That has not worked."

Sears Holdings is also kicking off 2012 with a new marketing structure and is on the hunt for a chief marketer at Kmart. David Friedman, senior VP-president of Sears Holdings' marketing business unit, is leaving the company in January, at the end of the company's fiscal year. His departure was announced in November, in tandem with the news that Imran Jooma, senior VP-president eCommerce at Sears Holdings, will take responsibility for the online, marketing, financial services and pricing business units.

-- Bloomberg News

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