LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
Retailers are hoping to salvage a dismal fourth quarter by turning these finals days of 2008 into a shopping marathon. One source, Master Card Adviser, says this year's retail holiday sales are down between two and four percent. The news is better for some online retailers. Amazon says this was its best year ever. So brick and mortar stores are trying to catch your eye the old fashioned, low tech way, with discounts. NPR's Yuki Noguchi has more.
YUKI NOGUCHI: In a word, many retailers are desperate. They are trying to cram more sales into the next week or so to compensate for the last month of slow sales.
Mr. SCOTT KRUGMAN (Spokesman, National Retail Federation): Right now, retailers are simply trying to minimize that damage.
NOGUCHI: Scott Krugman is with the National Retail Federation.
Mr. KRUGMAN: Retailers basically have a week to help make their sales projections for 2008, and I think they're going to pull every stop. They're not going to pull any punches in order to try to make this happen.
NOGUCHI: These small acts of desperation are evident everywhere. Stores are papered over with signs advertising 75 percent off, clearance sales that normally might not start until the crocuses bloom have already arrived.
Mr. KRUGMAN: The question is, when you're competing on price, how do you stand out? I think one of the things retailers are doing this year is being a little bit more lenient on return policies.
NOGUCHI: Krugman says returns are part of a strategy to get customers to go to stores. The theory is this, returns along with gift cards and huge discounts can draw people in. Once they are there, the hope is that they'll be lured to making one extra purchase.
Mr. RUSSELL DELANGE (Customer, Macy's): I actually was wise when I bought this year.
NOGUCHI: I encounter Russell Delange outside the Macy's in downtown Washington. He says he's shown a lot of self-control, and held on pretty tight to his wallet.
Mr. DELANGE: I shopped, and I made sure that I bought things for my loved ones that I think is good. Yeah.
NOGUCHI: As opposed to just fun.
Mr. DELANGE: Yeah.
Mr. DELANGE: Precisely.
NOGUCHI: Delange is a flight attendant from South Africa. Holding his new pair of jeans he just bought on sale, he says shopping is a lonely sport these days.
NOGUCHI: What it's like in there? Is it very busy?
Mr. DELANGE: Not at all. Not at all busy. I'm actually surprised.
NOGUCHI: What about the previous store you went to?
Mr. DELANGE: The previous store wasn't that busy, either.
Mr. KRUGMAN: You know, retailers had a lot going against them this season.
NOGUCHI: The National Retail Federation's Krugman says retailers emphasize marketing after-Christmas sales very heavily this year.
Mr. KRUGMAN: We're talking about a recession, we're talking five fewer shopping days than last year, and, of course, a winter storm for the last week of holiday shopping. I think there's a lot to make up for.
NOGUCHI: So far, Krugman says, the trade group's members say the traffic is looking promising. But after so many months of slashing prices, the profit numbers, when they come in early next year, probably won't look so good. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.
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