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posted: 12/1/2012 7:23 AM

How chains are fill shopping gap between Black Friday and Christmas

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NEW YORK -- Banana Republic is giving away Ghirardelli chocolates and six Fiat 500s in the first 12 days of December as U.S. retailers fight the holiday shopping lull that typically follows the Black Friday weekend.

Banana Republic, which has boosted sales this year through partnerships with the "Mad Men" television show and designer Trina Turk, will offer new discounts and gifts each day for its "12 Days of Joy" promotion, San Francisco-based Gap said in an e-mail. J.C. Penney started a 12-day "holiday giving tour" on Teusday with plans to give out firewood and cashmere scarves, while Target and Neiman Marcus are waiting until Dec. 1 to release a limited-edition designer collection.

Retailers aim to keep shoppers interested during the traditional slowdown between now and the final shopping days before Christmas, particularly after Black Friday deals this year moved into Thanksgiving and earlier.

"You just can't all keep competing on price all the time," Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said in a telephone interview. Luring consumers outside major shopping days takes exclusive products or "customer experiences or 'gifts' that encourage people to come in," she said.

U.S. retail sales rose 13 percent to $59.1 billion in the four days starting Nov. 22 after a 16 percent increase in the similar period last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Sales on Black Friday declined 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion, according to researcher ShopperTrak.

Banana Republic's exclusive collections and partnerships with brands such as airline Virgin America Inc. this year helped sales rise 8 percent to $1.98 billion in the three quarters ended Oct. 27, making up 18 percent of Gap's year-to-date revenue.

Banana Republic's "12 Days of Joy" promotion was created to "give our customers something extra, while keeping the momentum going beyond Black Friday," Global Chief Marketing Officer Catherine Sadler said in an e-mailed response to questions.

The chain also will give away makeup from Benefit Cosmetics and a 20 percent discount voucher for a Virgin America flight, according to the e-mail. On Dec. 12, customers may get 40 percent off a full-price item or enter a contest to win one of six Fiat 500 automobiles.

"We just saw a huge amount of commonality and a mirrored approach to our customers and the folks we're trying to reach with the Fiat brand," Casey Hurbis, head of brand communications for Turin, Italy-based Fiat in the U.S., said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. It's the automaker's first partnership with a U.S. apparel company and a brand- building effort as Fiat re-enters the market after a 28-year hiatus, he said.

The cars have an asking price of at least $19,500, and winners can select their own colors, he said.

A rebound in North America across all of Gap's brands has driven an 89 percent rally in the retailer's stock this year for the sixth-best performance in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

J.C. Penney, the Plano, Texas-based department-store company undergoing a turnaround, was giving away firewood at a store in Langhorne, Penn., on Wednesday and deploy a cashmere- clad Santa to distribute cashmere scarves and hats in Chicago on Dec. 3 as part of its holiday tour, according to a statement Tuesday. On Friday, a miniature J.C. Penney-branded blimp "will drop small gifts to unsuspecting pedestrians" in Knoxville, Tenn.

The designer collection from Target and Neiman Marcus will include more than 50 items from 24 designers including Tory Burch, Diane von Furstenberg and Marc Jacobs, priced from $7.99 to $499.99. The items will be available in both retailers' stores and websites, Minneapolis-based Target said in July.

Banana Republic is trying to tie in to its customers' passions of fashion, travel, the arts and food, Sadler wrote.

"The holidays are meant to be enjoyed and we hope through this unique program we can infuse a little 'surprise and delight' into the season," she wrote, "especially, since, as we all know, shopping can get stressful."

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