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Shoppers Find Discounts Are in Short Supply This Holiday Season

Retailers’ newfound pricing power is making some customers think twice about their holiday shopping plans

10/25/2021 1:45:00 PM

Retail ers’ newfound pricing power is making some customers think twice about their holiday shopping plans

Consumers should expect to pay closer to full price on products this holiday season, including on Nike sneakers, Coach handbags and Ralph Lauren Polo shirts, industry executives and analysts say.

Corp.and Home Depot said they wish they had more inventory to sell, but lack of adequate supply does help reduce discounting.Walmart’s inventory level has grown compared with 2020, said Chief Executive Doug McMillon at a September analyst conference. “We would take even more inventory if we could get it, especially in some categories,” he said.

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The average discount percentage for men’s apparel purchased over the Labor Day weekend through Brad’s Deals, an online discount marketplace, was 54% this year, compared with 71% a year ago. For shoes, discounts declined to 51% this year, from 62% last year. And sports, fitness and camping gear was discounted on average 31% this year, compared with 50% last year. Each of those categories was also less promotional this year compared with 2019.

Bargains for women’s apparel increased, while those for electronics and homegoods were roughly on par with the last two years.Casey Runyan, managing editor of Brad’s Deals, said that overall she expects reduced discounting to persist into the holiday season. “Promotions will likely be strategically placed on goods that retailers have in excess stock,” she said. “Those items might not be on top of shoppers’ holiday wish lists.”

BMO Capital Markets analyst Simeon Siegel said there will be a dichotomy to discounting this year. “Shoppers will have to spend up for the hot items, but will find deals on items that get left behind,” Mr. Siegel said. He expects discounts to be most prevalent on seasonal items that are late arriving in stores or warehouses due to the backlog at the ports.

For the first few weeks of October, the percentage of items on sale in aggregate at a handful of brands he tracks declined 5% compared with the same period last year. Nike and Adidas products sold atFoot Lockerhad the biggest reduction in promotions, with discounts roughly 30% lower at both brands. Coach, Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors items sold at Macy’s also had lower discount rates.

While supply-chain disruptions are the main reason for product shortages, some brands took steps before and during the pandemic to price items more strategically, either by reducing the amount of goods they sell or using data to better target promotions to select customers.

“We were inefficient in how we promoted before,” Chip Bergh, the CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., said last week at The Wall Street Journal’s Tech Live conference.Mr. Mitchell, Macy’s finance chief, told analysts in August that the company is using more science to set prices. That has helped it reduce and simplify the depth of its promotions, he said. Mr. Mitchell added that lean inventory levels are helping the chain maximize the amount of merchandise it sells at full price.

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What’s good for retailers isn’t necessarily good for consumers.Ryan Zamo is a bargain hunter. But the 32-year-old owner of an organic-skin-care company said she isn’t finding many deals this year. “Even if there is a sale, anything you want is out of stock or on back order,” said the Los Angeles resident.

—Sarah Nassauer contributed to this article. Read more: The Wall Street Journal »

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