Q: Ace, now that the holiday shopping season is over, everywhere I look there are huge sales going on at all the big stores. What gives? I know this happens in the retail industry every year at this time, but I don’t know why. Why?—Bill Sayles
A: As you noted, Bill, with the last week of December/first week of January come a buffet of deep discounts from retailers nationwide. That’s good for those who got cash for Christmas or gift cards for Hanukkah. But bad for everybody else who paid full price for holiday gifts a few weeks earlier only to see them now sitting on the shelves at, oh, 50 percent off.
What’s with the timing? Ace always supposed it was simply a matter of stores trying to move their overstock from the holidays. That’s partially true. But he put in some calls to a few local shops with big sales going on the past couple weeks and found some other, surprising reasons.
Men’s clothing store Beecroft & Bull (where Ace has spent many an afternoon pawing at the beautiful silk suits behind the window glass of the Barracks Road shop) started its annual post-holiday sale January 2. Manager Bill Jordan told Ace that the timing is, like their clothes, based on tradition.
“We only have two sales a year—one after Christmas, one around July 4,” he says, which is the way things used to be done before the spread of big-box and chain stores that seemingly have sales every other week. As for the January/July positioning, “They’re seasonal breaks,” he says. “In January we’re beginning to get spring and summer merchandise, while in and around July we get fall and winter merchandise.”
Corner-based footwear store Ragged Mountain Running Shop has actually been holding its sale through the month of December, but gives it an added post-holiday push to take advantage of a more shopper-friendly, student-free atmosphere.
Owner Mark Lorenzoni says Ragged Mountain is an exception to the retail world—their sales slow during the holiday season since there’s little outdoor activity then—but guesses that most retailers do the discount thing now to dump leftover inventory, on which they would otherwise have to pay taxes.
“They know people’s shopping habits slow down [after Christmas] and they have to move it” before their fiscal year is up, he says. Sometimes that’s in June, other times it’s the end of the calendar year. Lorenzoni says he sees this with the shoe companies he works with. “They’re trying to get rid of their shoes now. Maybe that’s what it is.”
Kelly Gentry, who co-owns Second Street antique store 2 French Hens with partner Miles Andrews, says, “Retailers have to make a living the best way they know how.” Her store held a sale immediately before Christmas, with larger savings after the holidays.
“A lot of people don’t understand the dynamics of retailers having to buy merchandise,” Gentry says. “A lot of people just truly think we have a little Wal-Martism about us, where we’re just going to capitalize.” In other words, retailers are not simply trying to wring every last dollar out of desperate holiday shoppers before offering seasonal discounts, and appearances to the contrary can be deceiving. But take it from inveterate shopper Ace. One thing that’s always true is this: A good sale is hard to pass up.