How To Have Festive (Yet Frugal) Holidays

Decking the halls might not be an option this season if paying the mortgage is a higher priority. Guests and callers share creative ideas for holiday giving — from shopping smarter to making your own crafty gifts.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Alison Stewart in Washington. Neal Conan is away. Black Friday, the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, is just over a week away. Now, if you've dreamed of jewelry or a flat screen TV, wake up. The way things are going, you might not even get socks or underwear this year or so says NPR and Robert Krulwich. He shared this tidbit Alan Greenspan told him about economic indicators.

ROBERT KRULWICH: If you look at the sales of male underpants, it's just pretty much a flat line, hardly ever changes. But on those few occasions where it dips, that means that men are so pinched that they are deciding not to replace underpants. And he said that is almost always a prescient, sort of, forward of here comes trouble.

STEWART: With the Grinch-like economy, retailers have their fingers crossed and they might have their toes crossed too. They're holding out hope for some sort of Christmas miracle. Many big-box stores are already feeling the pinch. Target reported a big loss, and Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Retailers from mom and pop stores to national chains are doing all they can to boost sales. Big flashy advertising campaigns, deep discounts, holiday layaway plans - that's right, layaway is back. Retailers, we want to hear from you. What are you doing to woo would-be buyers?

Our number here in Washington is 1-800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website, go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. Reporter Ylan Mui covers retail for the Washington Post. She joins us from Washington D.C. Hi. How are you?

Ms. YLAN Q. MUI (Retail Reporter, Washington Post): I'm pretty good. How are you doing, Alison?

STEWART: I'm doing better than retailers, I suspect.

Ms. MUI: Aren't we all?

STEWART: Yeah. Retail is such a broad term. I want to narrow it down a little bit throughout the conversation. Let's start with discounters like Wal-Mart, huge stores like Wal-Mart. How have they had to rethink the way they position themselves as they're going into the holiday season?

Ms. MUI: Well, Wal-Mart is actually in a really great position this holiday season because they are known for having some of the lowest prices on goods, on products, on whatever you might need. People think of Wal-Mart, they think of low prices. In recent years, Wal-Mart had tried to sort of get away from that a little bit. They tried to say hey, we're Wal-Mart, we have low prices, but you know, we also have skinny jeans if you're looking to buy that. We also have fashion items. We can be a little bit upscale. But now, they're finding that their low-price strategy is actually working really, really well for them, and they've seen sales - October same-store sales grew three percent when other competitors were reporting decline. So, you know, discounters are in a great position if they can offer that low message that all kinds of cash-strapped consumers want to hear.

STEWART: It's interesting you should mention that, because Target had a little bit of a different situation. They had to switch up their sort of marketing plan once they realized they were going for losses. Can you tell us a little bit about what Target had to do and why?

Ms. MUI: Yes. Well, it almost seems like Target and Wal-Mart have sort of switched places in recent months, because Target had been known for having a lot of style. You know, they had clothes that were designed by top designers like Isaac Mizrahi, they had teapots that were designed by the top interior designers. So, they really focused on style and fashion as the core of what Target was - expect more and pay less. But in today's economy, they're focusing more on the "pay less" portion of their slogan.

STEWART: They have switched from Targey(ph). They are trying to get away from Target.

Ms. MUI They're trying to get away from Target, and they're trying to get more to the low prices, because what their finding is that consumers are cutting back on those discretionary purchases - those purchases of dresses, those purchases of the teapots, those purchases of nice pillows for your boudoir. They're looking more for where I can find the lowest price on macaroni and cheese. So what Target has really had to do is emphasize, we sell the basics as well as selling fashion pieces as well, and the reason why it's had to do that is because it's sales have just been dismal lately. It reported fourth quarter - third quarter earnings that were down 24 percent. So, you know, they're really seeing a hit at their bottom line.

STEWART: What about the stores in terms of the suppliers having to make choices. Some of the big toy companies actually are charging more for their toys.

Ms. MUI: Right. You know, part of the problem that retailers face is that they don't order the products that you see on the shelves, the day before they arrive in the store. They have to make these decisions about what they're going to sell, how much they're going to sell it for, how much they're going to buy months and months in advance. So, when they were placing their orders for the holiday season they thought that maybe the economy would be in better shape than it is now. They thought they saw some weakness, but they said you know what, I think Christmas is still going to come. What they're finding now is that Christmas is maybe on the fence, right? So that they - that they've had to lower their prices on certain items, but also have to take a hit on their bottom line, because they have to lower the prices in order for customers to get into their stores, but they might have purchased these products for more than they would have purchased them in previous years.

STEWART: Let's talk to Leslie from Tucson, Arizona. We're discussing what it'll take to get people in the stores this holiday season. Hi Leslie.

LESLIE (Caller): Hey, how ya doing?

STEWART: I'm doing great.

LESLIE: My husband and I own a music store in Tucson, Arizona called the Instrumental Music Center and we are having a - we're teaming up with the community food bank, and we're going to have a bring ten, can goods and nonperishable food items for the food bank and get ten percent off everything in the store. And we're just going to do it for one weekend, and it really is for the first time, our first sale that we've ever had through the store to like discount prices. And it's also trying to help this food bank, because they had such a decrease in contributions over the last year.

STEWART: When did you and your husband arrive at this decision that we really think we need to do something here?

LESLIE: I've been trying to, ever since the election, trying to figure what I need to do as an American to help the economy and help my neighbor and all of that stuff. And, I'm doing more with the - this year I'm doing more with the Salvation Army, the Adopt a Family. I'm doing two big families instead of just one, and I thought that this would be a great two for one deal - both generate more income through the store, give people break on prices as well as help the food bank. So trying to really think out of the box in terms of what we can do, and I'm hoping all of our fellow Americans do the same.

STEWART: Leslie from Tucson, Arizona. I'm going to Tucson for the Thanksgiving. What's the name of your store again?

LESLIE: Instrumental Music Center. We've been open about 10 years. We are truly a mom and pop. It's me and my husband opened it by mortgaging our house, and we're hanging in there.

STEWART: All right, well, good luck to you. Maybe I'll see you next weekend.

LESLIE: It's lovely, let me tell you. Bring shorts.

STEWART: Thanks, Leslie. Let's talk to Julia on line six. Julia is calling us from Oregon City. Hi, Julia.

JULIA (Caller): Hello. Well, my husband has a regular job, but we also run a small woodworking business and we're finding that this year, the only way we're going to be able to give our kids Christmas is by doing bartering with other small businesses who aren't selling even half of what we usually would sell during a holiday season.

STEWART: Oh, can you give me an example?

JULIA: Sure. I was going to say I have twin six year olds who love bath beads and lotions and stuff and there's another woman who has a small business where she makes those things. And so we're trading out us making a couple of cutting boards for her to use as a gifts for her family, and she's making me these great baskets sets with a bunch of the stuffs that the girls will love to put together as gift baskets for them.

STEWART: Well, that's a really creative way to work it out. Julia of Oregon City, thank you so much. Ylan, how are the bigger retailers getting creative about getting people into the stores?

Ms. MUI: Well, obviously, next week is Black Friday, which is the big shopping day after Thanksgiving. And they really are going to be pulling out all the stops to try to get consumers inside their doors. So one thing that I've heard, which I thought was just hilarious, is Best Buy is holding a contest. They held a video contest online for their customers to submit a video that shows why they love lining up outside Best Buy stores at ungodly hours of the morning to wait for the flat-screen TV, to wait for the door bus or deals, wait for that $200 in GPS or whatever it might be.

So, they held a contest for the biggest, you know, Black Friday fan. And in each market, they found one fan and they're going to shuttle that person to their stores in a limousine and let them shop an hour earlier than everybody else. So they get to - get maybe a devious word - they get to go to the store at 4:30 in the morning on Black Friday and shop the stores. So, you know, that's just one example of sort of the creative lengths that people are going to, to get folks inside their stores on Black Friday. I heard of another retailer - local retailer called Healthy Back that sells beds and whatnot. And they're going to be offering free massages to anyone who comes to their store. So, the perks are many this year.

STEWART: Isn't the sort of the first rule of retail? You just have to get the bodies in the store?

Ms. MUI: Get the bodies in the store. And you know, that is - that has been a problem for retailers lately. You know, I saw something today from a firm called ShopperTrak that tracks the amount of people who go to malls each week, each month. And they are estimating that traffic in the malls will declined by 10 percent this holiday season. 10 percent decline in traffic at the malls. So, you know, that may be good because you'll be able to find a parking space actually this year. But, for retailers they're really, really worried about numbers like that.

STEWART: Let's take a listen to what Joe from Des Moines, Iowa has to say. Hi, Joe.

JOE (Caller): Hello. How are you doing?

STEWART: I'm doing well. How are you doing? How's your business doing?

JOE: Well, I tell you what. Folks have talked to me regarding business for the last - we - we're a 48-year-old art supply dealer here in Des Moines and very well-established here in this community. But, in the last nine to 10 months, we started feeling it last December already with our high-end luxury items. We sell fine-writing pens and instruments. And once November 1st or October 1st, we had about a 30 percent decline right away that month. We had good year going until November - December. But, we are spending more time on the broadcast-type marketing in advertising and what you say about folks through the door. I promote add on sales to my customer service people. But you don't have customers in the store. You can't even do a little - where are the fries?

STEWART: So the folks who were coming through the door and there in your stores, and you maybe don't see them so often. And, they tell you why. It's just basic bottom line. We can't do this right now, Joe.

JOE: Well, I think you're seeing that. I think the election had a lot to do with it. We also have a website, the archdoor.com. And it literally, we can tell when people are watching the politics on TV, when Mr. Obama was giving his speech that evening, we saw web sales drop down about two orders that night versus the regular eight to ten order a night. And, so I think there's a lot of distracted consumers right now...

STEWART: Sure.

JOE: That are being preached to by the media, that they ought to watch their wallet. When the reality is, I think if we calm down a bit and just get back into our lifestyle and our routine again, we're going to see some of those customers develop their routines back the way they want it to be. They can save their money, but they also have to remember that the independents out here. We really do need their help right now.

STEWART: Joe, we wish you the best during this holiday season. We're talking about what does holiday season's going to be like. How are retailers getting people in the stores? If you have a story, give us a call, 1-800-989-8255. I'm Alison Stewart. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Alison Stewart in Washington D.C. Shoppers, they have been telling us they're not going to spend as much for the holidays this year. Not only do they expect to buy fewer gifts, the things they do grab will likely be less expensive. One survey shows part of the problem, a tenth of those who were spotted, reported to having trouble getting credit. That's not especially good news for stores. Retailers, we do want to hear from you. What are you doing to woo would-be buyers?

Our number here in Washington is 1-800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. Ylan Mui is with us. She's a retail reporter from the Washington Post.

Ylan, I want to read you two emails that we got. This was from Candice in Kansas. She says, "We use layaway to pay off Christmas before the big day. It helps to curb some of the stress of the holidays as well as keeping us out of needless debt. My only complaint is the only department store offering layaway is Kmart. Not some place I would normally shop, but it's preferable to paying off Christmas two years from now." This is from Moore in Ohio. He says Larry the Cable Guy was on Leno last night. And he said that things are so bad that he was at the dollar store, and he said they are now offering a layaway plan. Bah-dum-cha(ph) the joke. But, I have seen the commercials as well for layaway. Is layaway the new big thing?

Ms. MUI: Layaway is making a comeback, definitely. You know, your emailer was correct in that Kmart is offering layaway. Kmart has offered layaway for many years. They're one of the few retailers who actually didn't get rid of the service. Wal-Mart got rid of layaway about two years ago. As it said, consumer demand for the service weekend. But, as we're seeing this year the demand has come back. Kmart is owned by Sears Roebuck Company. And Sears just announced this week that layaway will be back in Sears stores as well. They saw the demand. They saw the long lines at Kmart.

So Sears decided to bring it back. And you know, what I thought was really interesting was I was actually at a Kmart, talking to some folks who used the layaway service a couple of weeks ago. And what I was really surprised by was the number of the people who still use layaway. A lot of them said they came to Kmart specifically because they knew the store still offered layaway. The line sometime would go down the toy aisle. You know, across the hallway. I mean, it was an extremely long line. People putting $400, $500 worth of items on layaway, all Christmas gifts, so it's clearly still something that's very popular. And Kmart is definitely capitalizing off of it this year.

STEWART: All right. Let's take a listen to what Jim from Michigan has to say. Jim, you normally would be kind of in a holiday spirit, I'd take it.

JIM: Oh, I definitely ho, ho, ho in a holiday spirit. From the small town here in the lakeshore of Michigan, things are extremely bad around the area here. We don't have a lot of large industrial business. The only one that we do have isn't as bad as the automakers over in Detroit, but you know, we're still in the pinch. And, I do a lot of things in that white beard and red hat around the area.

STEWART: You dress up as Santa?

JIM: I'll say that on the air because only adult listeners are out there.

STEWART: OK.

JIM: I am the area Santa for credit unions, street farms, all over. And everybody is telling me that wants Santa to come, you know, this year for his appointed rounds. You know, things are bad, Jim. We got it, you know. We're going to start, you know, and we're already seeing it. We have a little get together for the mall Santas and things in the area. And we're starting to hear, you know, kids worried about daddy not having a job. About, you know, things aren't real good at home, you know. And one young man told me he said - you know, he heard at a party that he did early was that the people - one young man was worried about having enough food in his belly. That's all he wanted for Christmas.

STEWART: That's heart-breaking. Have you thought about the answers you're going to give to kids who come up and talk to you and have sad stories?

JIM: Well, I'll be real honest with you. I pray a lot and I go back. When I put on that red hat, the magic comes. And, every year I come up with an answer that seems to satisfy. And, we have the tell them to have faith. We also have to tell them that, you know, things are up and down. And, you know, you do what you can. You work with the social agencies. You know, you get a name here or a hint there. You know, you try to help parents connect, too.

STEWART: Well, go forth and be Santa-riffic, Jim.

JIM: Oh, we will. We will.

STEWART: All right.

JIM: Have a very merry Christmas, young lady.

STEWART: Thank you so much for calling. You know, we've been talking a lot, Ylan, about brick and mortar stores. What about what's going on online? Are they saying the same - are they taking the same kind of hit online retailers?

Ms. MUI: Online retailers are really facing a sort of different challenge. They've had so much growth over the past couple of years. That a lot of retail experts were expecting growth to slow anyway in online sales. But, they're seeing this year that that growth is slowing faster than they had thought it would. That they're seeing - I saw one report today that said October sales for online retailers is expected to grow by only one percent. So obviously, after several years of growing by, you know, 25, 26, 27 percent, a one percent growth is a very small number. However, it's still growth. So they are still seeing more people shop online. They are still seeing greater sales. Just not quite the same numbers they had seen before.

STEWART: We would like to bring in to the conversation. Joe Ridout, the spokesperson for Consumer Action, a non-profit consumer rights organization. Hi, Joe.

Mr. JOE RIDOUT (Spokesperson, Consumer Action): Hi Alison. Thanks for having me on.

STEWART: Of course, because I'm going to mine you for information and advice.

Mr. RIDOUT: Oh, I got plenty.

STEWART: So, thank you for being on. You've been listening in on our discussion. What one or two pieces of advice would you give to people who are planning to shop online but really, really have to watch the bottom line?

Mr. RIDOUT: Well, it's important - you know, there's a lot of great deal sites online like Fat Wallet or Slickdeals or a number of coupon sites. But, it's important not to get carried away with buying items just because they're on sale or just because they're deeply discounted. It's important to remember always just to buy what you actually will use or actually need especially if money is tight and you're looking online for deals. But you know, that being said, there are number of great ways to save money if you do a better research and check out some of the deal sites or coupon sites that are out there.

STEWART: Well, do me a favor and define your term - the difference between a coupon site and a deal site.

Mr. RIDOUT: A coupon site would direct people to a coupon issued by a retailer or manufacturers. Say, if you wanted to buy some Progresso Soup, you can find deals through, say, Coupon Bar or Coupons.com that will give you 50 cents off cans of soup, that are issued by the manufacturer, Progresso. And there are deal sites also that will direct you to not only coupons, but also just fantastic offers. They're unusually large discounts that are available at any given time. So those actually can save you the most money because most of the coupons are usually can be in the order of 10, maybe 20 percent. And they included enough restrictions at times that sometimes, just looking for the deepest discounts can be the best offer. I'll give you an example.

STEWART: Please.

Mr. RIDOUT: There's a - Best Buy often advertises online coupons, but when you really read for the fine print, the fine print takes up half the page and there's a large number of restrictions. So if you can get 10 to 12 percent off of your purchase except for TVs, copiers, cameras, computers, DVD box sets. I mean what else are you going to buy at Best Buy except for these things? So watch the restriction when it comes to coupons? And coupons are readily available through a great number of sites.

STEWART: What's the best way to find them? I mean, you know, it's not like you go to your mailbox, your physical mailbox and they fall out.

Mr. RIDOUT: Yeah. Well, it depends on what you're looking for. There's a lot of great grocery coupon sites. The Grocery Game is probably the best of all, but it charges about five dollars a month. But it does an outstanding job of targeting extremely deep discounts paired with coupons so people can save a great deal of money for thegrocerygame.com. Couponmom.com does a lot of the similar things that Grocery Game does, except it's free. The deals aren't quite as extraordinary, but it also tries to identify the best weekly circulars for grocery purchase.

These are great way to save money if you're buying non-perishable items that you can store up for few months like soup or cereal or other things like that. If you're looking for temp items or other kinds of gifts, Fat Wallet or Slickdeals have some tremendous coupon offers as well as just deals that they identify being 50 percent off or an extremely good deal combined with that discussion form can inform you about whether this is truly a good price or if it's something people have seen last week or last month.

STEWART: So Joe, I'm going to ask you to hang on for a second because I want to go to Dan in Phoenix, Arizona and bring him into the conversation because you're a web designer, Dan. Is that right?

DAN (Caller): Yeah, that correct. I run a web design business in Phoenix with my brother and we do all kinds of websites.

STEWART: And how do you - how was your business at this point? Are people interested in opening up online stores?

DAN: Yeah, that's correct. I run a web design business in Phoenix with my brother and we build all kinds of websites.

STEWART: And how do you - how is your business at this point? Are people interested in opening up online stores?

DAN: Yeah, you know, I was a little bit fearful with the recession coming. But what I've noticed is that we've been writing more proposals and speaking to more customers than ever about websites. And even though there are plenty of clients I have who owe me money who I can't collect from, and I understand their businesses are suffering, we're finding new clients, and I can only assume it's because probably a two-fold reason.

One is I assume these businesses are looking for alternative ways to sell their products and either they're looking to build a new web store, add on the existing website or they're looking for a whole new look and feel to their site because they want to gain new customers. And on the other hand, I started thinking that a lot of people are losing their jobs and as a result, they're probably starting their own new businesses, and they're looking for new sites for their new businesses.

STEWART: Dan from Phoenix. Well, I'm glad to hear things are going well for you. Thanks for calling in. Ylan, that brings up an interesting point. I'm not sure if you know the answer to this or not. But, do you know who is faring better websites for brick and mortar or web only retailers like Amazon.com or eBay?

Ms. MUI: You know, it's not clear to me at this point. I would think that some of the benefits that a web only retailer like Amazon would have would be that they don't have, you know, the infrastructure that a bricks and mortar retailer needs in order to supply their stores, etc, etc. However, I will say that, you know, overall, I think that consumers are looking for grounds that they know that right now there may be less willing to take a chance on a small online retailer, maybe one that doesn't have such a large name as Amazon or as eBay.

So, I think that people are right now sticking with trusted brands. The other thing about online sales that I wanted to bring out is that, you know, consumer's access to credit has also, I think, hurt online sales. You know, a lot of people are seeing their credit card limits reduced, a lot of people are - have defaulted on their credit cards. And so, they don't have the same access to plastic that they used to in the past. And, to make a purchase over the Internet, what do you need? You need a credit card in order to make that happen. So, online retailers are also watching the credit situation very carefully to make sure that - to find out what's going on with their consumers and find out if they're having those problems with credit that would impact their sales.

STEWART: Joe, before I let you go, you painted such a great scenario of wow there's all these coupons sites out there and all these deal sites, can you just give us one warning, something we should - make sure that people don't get taken advantage of in some way?

Mr. RIDOUT: I think the timely thing to mention right now is rebates, because with Black Friday coming up, rebates are offered often by a lot of stores, even though some, like Best Buy or Office Max have gotten away from rebates. There was a large rebate processing house called CPG that actually filed for bankruptcy last week. So, we all know about how dicey rebates can be to begin with. But even for those who are rebate pros, who flawlessly cut out their UPC codes, people who submitted the rebates accurately nevertheless can be denied their rebates if the rebate processing house goes down. And that was the case for CPG which processed rebates for - among other people, Costco, Home Depot, Canon, so there's even more uncertainty than before when it comes to rebates this year because the rebate processing houses appear to be in distress.

STEWART: Joe Ridout works for Consumer Action, a non-profit consumer rights organization based in San Francisco. Thanks, Joe.

Mr. RIDOUT: My pleasure.

STEWART: This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. We're speaking with Ylan Mui who covers retail for the Washington Post. We're talking about what is going to take to get people in the stores this holiday season. And Ylan, you know, we all saw the news that Circuit City went bankrupt, went to Chapter 11. If I'm sitting at home with a Circuit City gift card, am I just out of luck?

Ms. MUI: Well, you're out of luck maybe in the long term. But, in the near term they have said that they will honor gift cards currently. There are about 155 Circuit City Stores that will be closing. So, obviously, once those stores are closed, I wouldn't try to go there to redeem your gift card. But Circuit City still does have, you know, roughly 600 or so stores across the country and those stores are still operational as the company undergoes bankruptcy protection.

So, the company has filed a bankruptcy protection which means that it can continue to operate. It has not filed for liquidation or Chapter 7 in which it would actually get rid of all of its assets. So, you know, the company is still around. I think that the bigger concern for consumers is how long will it still be around. Will it fall into Chapter 7? How many more stores is it going to close? And, if I have a gift card or if I buy a TV with a warranty, are they going to be around to service that, you know, two years from if my TV goes kaput. Right?

STEWART: Do you have any sources to tell us who we might want to avoid buying gift cards from?

Ms. MUI: Well, I wouldn't go to Linens and Things. So, you know, I think that the difficulty is that Circuit City was sort of one of the first to go. Right? That they didn't even make it through the holiday season. They said our business is so impacted right now that we're having problems getting merchandised, even sales during the holiday season. Our sales have dropped dramatically that we are going to call bankruptcy now and we're going to try to make as much money off some of these closed out sales as we can during the holiday season. I think in January, once some of the dust has settled for retailers, we'll be better able to assess how did this season go? Was it make or break for me? Which side did I end up on? And that's when we may find out, you know, who we can shop with our gift cards still.

STEWART: We got two people I want to bring into the conversation because they're going back to some old fashion ways to get people in the stores. Christopher from Cleveland, Ohio. He says he's an executive store manager with Target, and we have gone back to old-fashioned customer service to drive sales. We've incorporated new procedures in place directly focused on pure guest service. And Linda from Burton, Ohio, this would get me into a store. Hi, Linda.

LINDA (Caller): Hi.

STEWART: So, I should show up hungry to your stores, is that what I hear?

LINDA: Absolutely. I work in a gallery called All (unintelligible) in Burton, Ohio and we offer things like hot cinnamon apple tea and ginger snaps and we're appealing to people to come and shop in our store. We have 55 artists and we have things in all price ranges, and to get back to the spirit of things like to put your heart into it and come and spend a couple of hours and it's just very restful - we gift wrap free. We just have all - we have a lot of different things to choose from.

STEWART: Do you think it's helping you at this point? Have you seen a change in foot traffic?

LINDA: You know what, we're doing really well, all things considering. And, part of that is we have some very beautiful items here in everybody's price range and a lot of people these days are looking more for one of a kind, not mass produced items.

STEWART: Linda from Burton, Ohio. Thanks so much. And Ylan, as we wrap up in this last 30 seconds or so, it seems like value is the word.

Ms. MUI: Value is the word. I think that consumers this holiday season are focused on one thing and that's price. Everyone has a 401(k) that's been impacted. Everyone has seen maybe their credit cards be affected by this economic downturn. And so, the number one thing that consumers are going to be looking for is where can I get the best deal on my gifts for this holiday season. And, I think that is what retailers are going to have to provide for them and they're really competing hard to try to get those customers inside their doors.

STEWART: Ylan Mui covers retail for the Washington Post. She joins us from a studio here in Washington D.C. Thanks so much for your time and sharing your reporting with us.

Ms. MUI: Thank you.

STEWART: Coming up, tanks, grain and now a $100 million in oil. How modern pirates are terrorizing the seas. I'm Alison Stewart. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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