Holiday Shoppers Treated Like Celebrities

Stores offer free food, massages, limo rides and special deals to lure shoppers.

ByANDREA CANNING via via logo
December 10, 2008, 8:31 AM

Dec. 10, 2008 — -- With retail sales at their weakest in more than three decades, stores and businesses are going above and beyond to get shoppers inside to spend money. Many stores are offering consumers some unique incentives for the holiday season.

Some stores and malls are trying to lure shoppers by treating them like A-listers, offering massages, drinks and a chance to relax at "rejuvenation stations."

"We are seeing a lot of flexibility at the retailers," Farnoosh Torabi, a senior correspondent at TheStreet.com, said. "That's a code word for desperate. Really, anything goes. ... We're seeing retailers really pull out all the stops. They are upping their customer service."

Many of the incentives exceed the usual discounts.

How about trading in stocks for sun? Florida-based Elite Island Resorts will take payments in stock to stay at its Caribbean properties, accepting the July 1 value of your shares.

And it might be time to take a cruise vacation. Carnival, for example, is offering a seven-night Caribbean cruise for $299.

"Resorts are reporting low vacancies; the airlines are having low traffic," Torabi said. "This is a great time to negotiate for a better deal. Realize that if the sales aren't being advertised, call up the resort, call up the hotel, call up the car rental company and ask for a deal."

If you're thinking about parking a new car under the Christmas tree this year, a Dodge dealership in Davie, Fla., is offering a buy-one-get-one-free deal.

"You have to be creative in an industry like this," a sales manager at the dealership said. "Sales are down across the board. We're reaching outside Florida to keep our numbers up."

Rosie Pope Maternity in New York City goes the extra mile to pick up pregnant women in a limo and drive them to the store for free. The store is also offering free baby CPR classes and "mom-osa" drinks.

"Being picked up by a limo feels very luxurious, very easy, and just makes me want to shop," customer Lea Graham said.

A number of chain stores are also pushing big promotions.

At specialty retail chain Brookstone, customers can bring in a gift card from any store, any year and for any amount and get 15 percent off a purchase.

Bloomingdale's and the Gap extended their 20 to 30 percent employee discount to nearly everyone this December.

And layaways are back at big retailers, like Kmart, Walmart, TJ Maxx and Sears.

If all that shopping gets too tiring, the 300 Simon Property Group malls across the country have set up rejuvenation stations, along with offering free food, drinks and personal shoppers. And for the first time, even your four-legged friends are welcome to come along.

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