Originally created 12/26/96

Merchants slashing prices to spur post-Christmas sales



(AP) If shoppers didn't spot sale signs before Christmas, they'll find them now.

Stores and malls were slashing prices Thursday, hoping to offset a ho-hum holiday season with a burst of post-Christmas buying.

From major retailers, like Lord & Taylor and Macy's, to small independent stores, merchants were opening early and offering deep discounts to get shoppers into the buying mood again after a 24-hour respite.

"It's a big day," said John Costello, senior executive vice president at Sears, Roebuck & Co., which was discounting everything from Craftsman tools to cordless telephones during its traditional after-holiday sale.

Despite reports of brisk buying in the first weeks of the season, many retailers failed to keep up with that pace through Christmas Eve.

Maxxed-out credit cards, foul weather and five fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas contributed to the slowdown.

"Was it great? No," said Robert Burton, director of investor relations at Kmart Corp. "We saw a modest improvement this Christmas and retailers in general had to work hard to get the gains they had."

Now, storeowners are betting on a surge of buying to help their bottom lines. For shoppers, that could mean good deals on things they didn't get for Christmas. Some merchants are offering discounts as high as 75 percent.

Some of the best prices were expected to be found at electronics and computer stores, which suffered through one of their toughest holiday seasons in recent years due to waning demand.

"Everyone said wait until after Christmas before you get a computer," said Sonya Ortiz, who stopped by a CompUSA store in Manhattan Christmas Eve to check out a few of her options. "I'll be back to see if what the prices are Thursday."

Apparel, too, will likely go on sale, as clothing stores try to move out merchandise to make room for new goods. These markdowns come despite a successful season for apparel retailers, who thrived thanks to a rebounding interest in clothing.

"Apparel was up stronger than anticipated," said Walter Loeb, who runs the retail consulting firm Loeb Associates. "Everything was selling and anything tied to clothes was selling - ties, accessories, handbags."

Other big winners this Christmas included jewelry stores and upscale retailers, with many shoppers willing to spend a little more on gifts. Toy retailers had a strong year, benefiting from the frenzy over Tickle Me Elmo and Holiday Barbie dolls and Nintendo 64 video games.

Home furnishings also sold well, especially smaller pieces like wine racks and end tables.

"It's the Martha Stewart syndrome," said Clark Johnson, chief executive of Pier 1 Imports. "People interested in their homes again."