Shop Here... Please!

Online retailers have been killing our e-mail boxes with kindness leading up to the holiday season. The relentless slew of bigheartedness includes free shipping, deep discounts, and generous credits towards other product groups, in the case of Amazon.com(Nasdaq: AMZN). And you can only expect the offers to get better (or worse, depending on your tolerance for spam).

Heck, even churches have started accepting plastic if you're short on cash when the collection plate comes around.

But it's the tactics used by bricks-and-mortar stores battling for foot traffic that have caught our eye. If you happened to flick on the tube for even a moment yesterday, you might have noticed that they're leaving nothing to chance. Stores like KB Toys and some major department stores opened at the crack of dawn -- literally 5:00 a.m. As long as you're out, you may as well stop in at Gap Inc.'s(NYSE: GPS) Old Navy to enter its sweepstakes for the chance to win $25,000. Circuit City(NYSE: CC) has combined the convenience of online shopping with the instant gratification of shopping in person. The store lets you place an order online and then practically do a drive-through pick up of that all-in-one DVD/Xerox machine/photo enlarger/espresso machine.

In perhaps the boldest move to lure trendy young thangs and their allowance into stores, teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch(NYSE: ANF) features male models, clad only in underwear, greeting shoppers at stores in major cities. Quick, go lock your daughter in her bedroom!

Chances are the sales tactics will only get racier. Though Thanksgiving is the official kick-off of the holiday shopping bender, the last week before Christmas is actually the busiest for retailers, accounting for one third of all holiday sales last year, reports the International Council of Shopping Centers.

While the sales prospects this year don't exactly look grim, they certainly aren't a slam-dunk. The National Retail Federation predicts total holiday retail sales will show the weakest increase (4%) since 1997.

Wonder what those Abercrombie & Fitch models will be wearing on Dec. 24.




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