Will Christmas sales be delightful or frightful?

December 12, 2005

Skyrocketing gas prices have put a dent in consumers' wallets, but chains and independents are still looking to a rosy holiday. Many expect consumers to flock to neighborhood drugstores and pharmacy Web sites to fill Santa's sleigh with gifts.

Skyrocketing gas prices have put a dent in consumers' wallets, but chains and independents are still looking to a rosy holiday. Many expect consumers to flock to neighborhood drugstores and pharmacy Web sites to fill Santa's sleigh with gifts.

The National Retail Federation's (NRF) annual Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey gives reason to think that consumers won't be pulling in the reins on holiday spending. According to the survey, conducted by NRF and BIGresearch, the average consumer plans to spend $738.11 this holiday season, up 5.1% from the previous year. NRF forecasts that holiday sales will increase 5% to $435 billion.

Dressing up the Web sites

Not to be outdone, Walgreens spruced up its cyber aisles with a dazzling display of diamond hearts and solitaire pendants, jewelry boxes, sports equipment, and "As Seen on TV" items. Walgreens didn't waste time getting consumers in the mood to shop. In November, its circular was chock full of 99-cents and $1.99 gifts.

Decorating store shelves

When it comes to holiday decorations, Walgreens expects its exclusive four-foot lighter inflatable character collection, which features Winnie-the-Pooh, Mickey Mouse, Santa Claus, and Tigger and retails for $19.99, to be the rage. Walgreens is also betting that holographic twinkling light sculptures in assorted designs that include snowmen, wrapped gift boxes, and trains will fly out the door together with animated, grazing, lighted reindeers.

Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin told Drug Topics, "We're always optimistic about the holiday season. This year is no different. There is a theory that people will be staying closer to home to do their shopping because of gasoline prices. If that's true, that would help us because we are a convenience-oriented retailer. We definitely expect to see an increase in holiday sales on our Web site. "

Walgreens spokeswoman Tiffani Bruce anticipates that gift cards will be popular. The chain has added Spafinder, Starbucks, Best Western, and Great American Days to its collection.

Lewis Drugs, Sioux Falls, S.D., has a picture of Santa on its Web site with the copy, "Ring in this holiday season with a stop to your local Lewis Store!"

Mark Griffin, Lewis' president/ CEO, told Drug Topics, "The holiday season will be very promotional and will start sooner than ever. Most of the majors are kicking it off before Thanksgiving this year, which makes the promotional period that much more exciting for the customers and more difficult for the retailer because you have multiple markdowns." Aware that gasoline prices are on consumers' minds, Lewis has added the tag line "Save Gas. Shop Lewis" to its umbrella marketing theme, "Your Store Next Door."

Lewis is offering an exclusive collectible of a local landmark, St. Joseph's Cathedral. A portion of the profits goes back to the cathedral. "The demand has been outstanding so far," Griffin said.

"The Christmas trees are getting more interesting. We have a totally white tree with tubular lights that looks like modern art," Griffin added.