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LI retailers offer deals to lure holiday shoppers

Ben Youdim, owner of Beltrami LTD classic Italian

Ben Youdim, owner of Beltrami LTD classic Italian clothing store for men, shows off a suit for sale, Tuesday in Huntington. (Nov. 9, 2010) Credit: Newsday/ J. Conrad Williams Jr.

This holiday season, retailers are ready to make a deal.

Despite forecasts of a rise in holiday revenue, many retail analysts say shoppers are still being conscientious about how much they spend. A National Retail Federation survey showed that about 42 percent of consumers said that a sale or discount was the primary factor influencing their decision to buy.

"I think she [the customer] is skeptical based on the economy and what's going on," said Jenny Montiglio, owner of Ooh La La's five Long Island boutiques. "It's not so much of a splurge year but more of a steal year. . . . They want bargains and events and discounts, and that's something we need to cater to."

Retailers large and small are hoping for a modest sales increase and are working every angle they can to achieve that goal, ramping up their use of social media sites and smart-phone applications.

Local independent merchants, whose season usually begins in earnest the first week of December, say they are planning more events this season, using social networking sites and are broadening their range of items to cater to a wide range of consumer budgets.

"Is it price that is going to get the consumer in, or the items, or the stabilization of the job market?" said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, a Port Washington market research firm. ". . . Retailers don't know what to do, so they are throwing the kitchen sink at the consumer, saying, 'We'll give you anything and everything for a price.' "

Some local retailers say they are hoping to see a 10 percent to 15 percent increase from last year's dismal holiday revenue, but retail analysts are forecasting much more modest holiday sales increases nationally. The National Retail Federation said 2010 holiday sales should rise 2.3 percent to $447.1 billion.

Several larger national retailers already have begun a steady drumbeat of weekend sales to remain at the forefront of shoppers' minds and to capture early sales, retail analysts said.

The strategies retailers employ will depend upon a store's core customer and whether they have remained employed and possibly have more discretionary income, said Scott Balestrier, a tax partner for consulting firm BDO USA Llp's retail and consumer products unit.

"If your customers tend to be more affluent and brand conscious, then you are increasing your inventory and also increasing the variety of products you are going to offer with a little less focus on deep price discounts," Balestrier said.

Most smaller merchants don't compete with the midnight and early morning openings on the day after Thanksgiving, better known as Black Friday. They are using coupons as well as promotions sent out via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

Silica, which sells handcrafted jewelry online and at a store in Sayville, is planning on hosting more events inviting customers to meet the artists, said Alison Flodin, co-owner. She said her Facebook alerts notifying customers of new merchandise also have helped draw customers and will be a tool she will use this holiday season.

"Here, you can buy an interesting gift under $100 with an artist's story," said Flodin, who is hoping to see her holiday sales rise by at least 10 percent. "It's special but not the gold and diamonds they [customers] can't afford at this point."

Although the region hasn't been hit as hard with unemployment as other regions, Lynn Usher, owner of Einstein's Attic toy store in Northport, said she is sensitive to the budget-conscious shopper.

"You don't have to prove anything with what you're purchasing," said Usher, explaining her philosophy of gift giving. ". . . My customers know I'm not going to talk them into something just to make the sale."

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