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Archive for Sunday, October 28, 2001

Retailers warm up to stress-free shopping

October 28, 2001

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Bergdorf Goodman will set up TV sets in its men's clothing department and offer children's book readings this holiday season.

Intimate Brands' Bath & Body Works is training employees to sweeten their sales pitch of new offerings, including the company's spa and aromatherapy line.

Salespeople now are expected to engage shoppers in light conversation before demonstrating the merits of orange ginger oils and salt scrubs.

And Weavers Department Store, in downtown Lawrence, this winter intends to stock more sweaters, coffee makers and blankets to satisfy customers' increasing demands for warmth and comfort.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many retailers are changing their holiday plans, hoping that a softer, more comforting approach will put consumers, who for months have been cutting their spending back, in the mood to buy once again.

Amid anthrax scares and fears of more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, retail executives acknowledge that consumers are jittery and that stores need to be more in sync with customers' needs.

"We want a more cozy Christmas. We want our customers to feel our store is a safe haven," said Robert Burke, vice president of fashion at Bergdorf Goodman.

Added Ken Montera, executive vice president of Bath & Body Works: "We just need to take the time to say 'hello.' Consumers are more sensitive these days."

Other retailers including Target Stores Inc. and Home Depot Inc. said they were sticking to already-planned holiday strategies, which they still consider to be appropriate. And teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters believes the holiday ad campaign it conceived last spring will resonate even more than expected with shoppers.

The retailer's "Get Together" campaign, which will begin in mid-November, shows an ethnically diverse group of young people at home sharing the holidays together.

Consumers are pulling away from big-ticket luxury items and other discretionary purchases, and more toward cocooning merchandise, as they retreat to their homes. Sales of knitting needles and other arts and crafts, as well as home decor have picked up.

At Weavers, 901 Mass., officials haven't shifted their customer-service plans in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, said Joe Flannery, company president. But officials already have stocked up on extra "comfort" items for the season.

"Whenever there are stressful times, people tend to stay at home more," he said. "As a result, they will buy things more for their home than they would be if they're traveling more."

Since the attacks, Americans have been eating more at home, spending more time with family and friends and leaving work on time, according to Arnold Worldwide, a Boston-based advertising agency.

Daniel Barry, a retail industry analyst at Merrill Lynch, forecasts that retailers will have the worst Christmas in 33 years, with total general merchandise sales up only 0.2 percent, compared with last year's gain of 5 percent.

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