Retailers Are Already Trying to Fend Off the Grinch

retailers already trying to fend off the grinch
retailers already trying to fend off the grinch

It's hard not to sound like the Grinch these days. But as we head into the holiday season, there's not too much cheer to spread around.

August 2011 saw a 47% increase in layoffs compared to last year, and there's more of that to come. Unemployment remains at a painfully high 9.1%, and the government report on hiring showed that there was no growth in employment in the month of August.

It's not just the employment scenario that's grim. The most recent U.S. census data show a poverty rate of 15.1%. (That's 46.2 million people in this country living at or below the poverty line.) And then there's the rising cost of living (more expensive fuel and food) making it harder for Americans -- already on a shoestring budget -- to try to get by.

Will Cash Registers Ring This Christmas?

With budgets stretched like never before, retailers are trying to find the formula to woo cash-strapped customers to the checkout line. Some of the biggest names in retail are donning their Santa suits to save the holidays -- for customers and themselves. Here's what they're doing:

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Woo shoppers with exclusives: What would the holiday season be without toys? You can buy playthings just about anywhere, which is why Toys R Us's strategy for this holiday season is to sell exclusive toys only available at its stores.

Shop now, pay later: Wal-Mart (WMT) is bringing back the tried and tested layaway after five years of putting the program on ice. It plans to start offering the service in October. Customers can set aside toys or electronics they want to purchase by putting a 10% down payment and paying a small setup fee. Those short on cash have until Dec. 16 to pay the remaining balance and collect their purchases.

Start the holidays early: We haven't even decided what to be for Halloween, and already stores are pitching us holiday fare. Christmas decorations, lighting, cards, and merchandise have filled shelf space at Costco (COST) since the start of September. Other retail majors such as Home Depot (HD), Sears (SHLD), and J.C. Penney (JCP) also plan to get into the holiday spirit before September's end.

It may seem laughably early to create a winter wonderland display. However, a national survey showed that 37% of shoppers would do some Christmas shopping before Halloween. The extended holiday shopping period allows shoppers to better budget their holiday purchases and spread them out over time. Maybe this year the last-minute panic shoppers will get to stay home and sip eggnog instead.

Motley Fool contributor Joshua Gomes does not hold shares in any of the companies mentioned in the article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Costco Wholesale and Wal-Mart Stores. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Costco Wholesale, Wal-Mart Stores, and The Home Depot. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Wal-Mart Stores.

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