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9 things for shoppers to watch this holiday season | TribLIVE.com
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9 things for shoppers to watch this holiday season

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This Oct. 1, 2014 photo shows Disney's Frozen Snow Glow Elsa on display at the TTPM Holiday Showcase, in New York. Toy sellers aim to perk up sales that were flat last year, though they hope to get a boost this year from toys related to “Frozen” and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which could sell out quickly. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The holiday shopping season is kicking into high gear. So, what’s hot this year? And what changes should shoppers expect during the busiest time of the year? Here are nine things to watch:

Thanksgiving afternoon

Will shopping on Thanksgiving creep into late afternoon this year? Most retailers held off until 6 p.m. or later last year, but with Macy’s opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, two hours earlier than last year, some others may edge up to 5 p.m. or even 4 p.m.

Nearly one-third of shoppers ventured out on Thanksgiving evening last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

With most families eating the big meal between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., retailers need to be very careful before deciding to open before 6 p.m., said Britt Beemer of America’s Research Group. “They could lose 8 to 10 percent of their customers as a result of opening earlier,” he said.

Dave Brennan, marketing professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and co-director of the Institute for Retail and Excellence, believes retailers won’t go much earlier than 5 p.m. And he said, “Retailers such as Costco and Nordstrom that stay closed on Thanksgiving may start being rewarded for waiting.”

‘Frozen’ madness

The Elsa doll from the hit Disney movie “Frozen” is expected to be one of the hottest toys this holiday season. Not only that, but retailers are selling lots of other stuff related to the movie.

Target, for example, is selling hundreds of items related to the movie, including 60 that are exclusive to the retailer. A “Snow Glow Elsa” doll, available widely, plays a number of songs from the movie, including “Let It Go.”

“That’s going to irritate you all Christmas,” Duncan Mac Naughton, a Wal-Mart executive, joked to investors last month.

No hot toy

Though retailers are pinning big hopes on “Frozen,” it’s not a craze that will spark big lines and parental panic. This holiday adds to a string of years without a toy megahit. The last must-have toy moment came in 2009, with Zhu Zhu Pets.

What a waste of technology. Twitter, Facebook, back-in-stock apps and Black Friday forums are lying dormant, waiting to ping parents and grandparents about where they can find the latest hot toy in stock.

Creative Kidstuff Chief Executive Roberta Bonoff says there will be another hot toy someday, but kids today are just as likely to be attracted to video games and grown-up toys, such as iPads.

Faster delivery

This is the year brick-and-mortar retailers are striking back against Amazon by providing faster options to get items to customers’ homes. More retailers have begun shipping items directly from stores — instead of from fulfillment centers thousands of miles away — in order to get to customers more quickly.

Meanwhile, Target, Wal-Mart, Macy’s and Amazon are testing same-day delivery in select markets.

And many retailers now allow customers to buy online and pick up in a store.

Free shipping

Target announced last month that all online orders receive free shipping through Dec. 20. But experts don’t expect the idea to be widely copied. “Most merchants are going in the other direction, like Amazon raising its free shipping minimum to $35 from $25,” said Luke Knowles, founder of Freeshippingday.com.

Firms like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Reebok, already offer free shipping all the time. And consumers can get free shipping from more than 1,000 merchants on Dec. 18 at freeshippingday.com.

But Knowles thinks Target will lose money on free shipping. “I doubt Wal-Mart is planning to match them,” he said.

Data breaches

Every retailer wants to avoid the nightmare Target experienced last year after a huge data breach lowered sales a few days before Christmas. Since then, a number of other retailers such as Home Depot, Supervalu, and Neiman Marcus have suffered similar attacks.

Target executives say their customers have moved on and that traffic in stores has mostly rebounded to pre-breach levels. But a recent report from CreditCards.com found that 45 percent of Americans are likely to avoid stores like Target and Home Depot this holiday season because of their breaches in the last year.

Earlier shopping

Expect retailers to begin to get aggressive with promotions leading up to Black Friday. They want to make sure you shop with them before you go over your holiday budget.

Bill Martin, the founder of ShopperTrak, notes that November sales have been growing at the expense of December sales for the last decade. And he doesn’t see that trend changing anytime soon.

Price match

Price-match policies are a win-win for consumers and retailers. Consumers like stores that price match because it makes them feel good about where they shop. Retailers like price matching because fewer than 5 percent of shoppers actually ask for it during the holiday season, according to Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group. Generally, convenience wins out and consumers won’t take the time to ask for a match unless they can save $25 or more.

Retailers such as Target, Best Buy, Toys ‘R’ Us, Wal-Mart and even Amazon (selected items only such as TVs) allow price matching all through November and most of December.

That’s quite a bit longer than the regular practice of price matching for seven to 14 days. However, most retailers won’t match specials on Black Friday weekend or Cyber Monday.

Wish lists

Those lists to Santa are getting app-ified. Target is rolling out its own Wish List app. Best Buy is enhancing its wish list section on its website and through its app to include more holiday gift ideas under certain dollar amounts. And there are a number of other apps out there such as Wishybox and Wishlistr.

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