Shoppers flock to malls the day after Christmas, but retail outlook remains bleak

Wednesday, December 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Bargain-hunters headed to malls the day after Christmas as merchants slashed prices even further to clear out products from the holiday season. But even if sales are brisk this week, it probably won't save retailers from their worst shopping season in a decade.

Some shoppers were surprised Wednesday to find few people waiting outside stores to hit sales early.

``Everyone had such good sales before Christmas,'' said Sally Moore-Rafferty of Selkirk, N.Y., minutes before the doors opened for Macy's post-Christmas sale at the Colonie Center Mall, near Albany, N.Y.

With a disappointing pre-holiday shopping season behind them, retailers are setting their sights on the post-Christmas selling period, slashing already discounted prices to draw shoppers back to stores.

The seven days leading up to the New Year typically account for about 10 percent of total holiday sales, but this year those results were more important than usual. Merchants are hoping the deals attract enough business to compensate for otherwise dismal results. They also need to make room for spring goods, which start coming in at the end of the month.

``Retailers have to be concerned with getting their stores ready for the spring selling season, and they must sell everything by mid to late January _ no matter what the cost,'' said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C.

Beemer noted that retailers don't want to repeat the mistakes of a year ago, when they couldn't move merchandise fast enough. ``A lot of retailers were still having clearance sales in February, and couldn't bring in their spring merchandise,'' he said.

Many stores had cut back on holiday inventories because of the slowdown, but those efforts weren't enough. As a result, discounts began early.

The markdowns intensified as Christmas approached, with some stores offering discounts of up to 75 percent off, typical of what customers would find during post-holiday sales. Some of the biggest sales were for sweaters, coats and other heavy winter apparel because demand was stymied by warmer-than-usual weather.

Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, based in Upper Montclair, N.J. expects shoppers to find ``discounts galore.''

``There is no question that customers will enjoy extraordinary opportunities for extraordinary bargains,'' he said.