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Holiday selling season gets pushed earlier and earlier thanks to big box


NEW YORK —With seasonal promotions starting in early October (along with decorations in some places), the holiday boom has kicked off and retailers are planting seeds for early shopping.

According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales typically represent between 25% and 40% of many retailers’ annual sales, creating additional pressures to outsell the big-box next door.

When it comes to toys, this year may be particularly hard—courtesy of endless toy recalls that have put parents on high alert when it comes to safety. A recent consumer toy safety survey by online toy retailer disclosed that about one-third of consumers believe that U.S.-based toy companies are responsible for delivering safe goods to their customers.

Since 56% of the respondents say that they will only purchase toys by known companies, retailers have their work cut out for them when it comes to selecting the merchandise and special promotions, which are a driving force behind the early holiday season.

Recent economic turmoil has not been a secret. With the weak housing market and rising fuel costs, consumers are likely to be pinching pennies at checkout counters. Discount retailers, like Wal- Mart, have taken that into consideration as they position themselves at the helm of holiday price wars. Although customers may be pleased with the rollbacks, neighboring mass retailers are apt to lose valuable customers to the dominant discounter.

In order to establish themselves as the price leader in the toy category, Wal-Mart started holiday promotions about two weeks earlier than last year. “We want to help mom save money,” said Melissa O’Brien, merchandise spokeswoman for Wal-Mart. “This is a period that moms are scouting. Our hope is that we send the message of good value right now.”

By working closely with suppliers and tracking shopping patterns, Wal-Mart has built a Top 12 Toys for Christmas list to remain trend right, which features toys that deliver good value by focusing on interactive play (Aqua Dots Super Studio from Spin Master), digital fun (Kid Tough Digital Camera from Fisher-Price) and activity (Smart Cycle from Fisher-Price).

“Consumer electronics have become a very dominant part of the toy industry,” said Scott Krugman, NRF spokesman, “especially, when it comes to video games.” Seven out of 12 of the ‘hot toys’ selected byToy Wishes magazine are electronic related. The popularity of digital merchandise can be attributed to the overwhelming focus on the 8-to-12-year-old demographic.

By starting early, Wal-Mart nudges the scouting consumers to buy with an early jump on savings. “We don’t necessarily have a crystal ball telling us what the economy is doing,” said O’Brien. “In some markets, some of our consumers are really going to appreciate saving money. We are going to continue the rollbacks on specific hot toys every week this month.”

When the Wal-Mart repeats a marketing strategy, others take notice and start the holiday season earlier, as well. “Forty percent of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween,” said Krugman. “That can certainly be playing into retailers’ decisions to market to those consumers a little bit earlier.”

Plus, since most retailers are coming out with ‘hot toy’ lists, consumers don’t have to wait for an item to sell out to know that they should have snatched it up already. “[Consumers] want to know what the hot toys are…That way, they don’t have to rely on eBay and pay a premium [later],” added Krugman.

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