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Expect A Mass Merchant Showdown for the Holidays

12 Nov, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Over the weekend I started wrapping Christmas presents and found I had no purple ribbon, which I wanted to complement a particular wrapping paper. So off to the store I went, thinking I could find it at any drugstore or mass merchant at this time of year.

Not only did I learn I was wrong, but in my quest for the elusive purple ribbon, I found a surprising lack of shoppers.

I know I start holiday shopping earlier than most folks because, among other things, I hate competing with crowds and standing in lines. But I thought I would find a few early bird shoppers out there.

First stop: Target. I noticed right away that the parking lot was half empty, unusual for this time of year. The story was the same inside. It was Sunday afternoon and there were no lines at cash registers and enough sales associates to answer everyone's questions. But no purple ribbon, so on to Kmart.

Surprisingly, Kmart was busier than Target. Maybe it owes to fire sale prices, but there were more shoppers, though traffic was still light. While I was there I noticed all but one DVD standee was gone; that one was directly across from the electronics department sales counter. The rest of the DVDs are all under glass now, which can't be helping sales, even if it is controlling loss.

But no purple ribbon, so I was off to the dreaded Wal-Mart. A relative newcomer in my town, Wal-Mart was busier than either of the other two stores. But still not what I expected in the post-Halloween, post World Series environment. It wasn't even as busy as it was over the summer.

If this is any indication, this year's holidays are going to be a brutal retail season. It's widely believed it will be make-or-break for struggling Kmart, which showed no indications of “make” or “break” on this visit. Target, which typically draws crowds in my neighborhood, may lose a lot of ground to Wal-Mart.

As an anecdotal observation, I while I was there I broke down and bought a catalog DVD I wanted. For $8.78. Online, I could sell the disc used to another business for $5.30. Which totally defeats the purpose of rental, I might add, because I can keep the title for as long as I want or, if I was so inclined, I could resell it and not have invested more than a one-night rental would have cost at Blockbuster.

And Wal-Mart had a spool of purple ribbon, too.

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