Like many of you, I've been doing a bit of last-minute shopping. As a student of retail, I've also been observing with interest where the business seems to be happening, and how retailers are handling the pressure.
Very few retailers will consider 2007 a banner year, but the next few shopping days will at least allow some companies to salvage something from what will be for most a dismal holiday shopping season. Here's what I saw heading into the last, and biggest, shopping weekend of the year.
The checkout was working much more smoothly than I've seen in recent years. After several years of trying, Wal-Mart has finally nailed self-checkout. While price cuts get most of the play in the media, I think good service is just as important to customers this year. We all know Wal-Mart will have the best prices -- but is it worth the hassle of trying to shop the store? This year, my answer is yes.
It looks like someone forgot to tell Target
The Best Buy
I bought my wife a new computer. She hasn't been too happy with her 6-year-old model this past year. The salesperson spent quality time helping me pick out the right features, then the pocket-protector team from Geek Squad eliminated the unnecessary software and made sure the box was humming. I see Best Buy pulling even further into the lead in consumer electronics this holiday season.
The store was reasonably busy. Kohl's has very loyal customers who like the brands and the prices. But based on my visit, the company may be risking the loss of some of that loyalty this season, unless it increases its emphasis on shelf maintenance and checkout standards.
No need to remind J.C. Penney
The malls are filled with apparel-only specialty retailers, but I didn't see a lot of activity at most of them, with the exception of Aeropostale
That's it for observations from this retail field trip. The last weekend before Christmas arrived, with many retailers racking up 25%-30% of December sales in these last three hectic days. Believe it or not, it's still too soon to tally the winners and losers; consumers are shopping later every season. Next week we'll learn the good, the bad, and the ugly. Stay tuned.
For more views on the holiday retail season, check out:
Fool contributor Timothy M. Otte surveys the retail scene from Dallas. He welcomes comments on his articles, and owns shares of Wal-Mart and Costco, but none of the other companies mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy makes its own holiday wreaths.