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Sales in the wind: The push to lure shoppers
Retailers pull out the stops to drum up business
Several grocery items were used in the car giveaway sponsored by J&J Foods and Milton Martin Honda dealership Saturday at J&J Foods. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

You don't have to look far to see a retailer offering a sale that it claims to be its biggest and best of the season.

But sluggish sales and the prospect of more customers at home for the holiday have prompted some stores to offer deeper discounts in hopes of bringing more customers and more dollars through their doors.

"What you're seeing is the retail sector recognizing that things are a little soft and high gas prices are impacting retail sales," Mercer University economist Roger Tutterow said. "Looking at year-over-year retail sales, factoring out inflation, you're squeaking out a couple of percent (increase). I think they're trying to use the holiday to jump start some of their sales."

The incentives of reduced and discounted prices were evident throughout the week leading up to the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Furniture retailer Rooms-To-Go offered a series of coupons providing discounts of $100 to $1,000, depending on the amount of furniture purchased.

Belk offered an additional 50 percent discount on items that had already been marked down.

"We're running a really good sale event and we're hoping for rain," said Mick Wiederhold, operations and human resources manager at Belk. Rain, she said, would keep customers away from outdoor activities and divert them into the company's stores at Lakeshore Mall.

"We have a coupon in one of our fliers offering $10 off your first $25 purchase," she said.

Other retailers were seeking to cash in on the holiday shoppers. J&J Foods, the independent supermarket in Gainesville, had a major buildup for its anniversary sale. In addition to significant discounts on grocery items, the company teamed up with Milton Martin Honda to give away three Honda Element vehicles.

"This has been one of our most successful anniversary sales," said Darrell Wiley of J&J Foods. "It seems that people are more concerned about prices and are giving us a try."

Another reason for the increased marketing effort by retailers is the "staycation" factor, the higher number of people who are taking time off from work but are staying at home because of fuel costs.

"I think it's likely that more people will stay home this holiday than in the past," Tutterow said. "Not only because of higher gasoline prices, but because of higher air fares, as well. The combination of knowing that more local residents will stay in town this holiday, coupled with their need to jump-start some cash flow, makes it a good business play for them."

Travel for the Independence Day weekend was expected to decrease nationwide by 1.3 percent compared with last year, resulting in 40.4 million Americans traveling a distance of at least 50 miles from home, according to AAA.

In the Southeast, holiday travel by car was also projected to decline by 1.3 percent while travel by air was expected to drop by 2 percent.

In Georgia, slightly more than 1 million people indicated plans to drive and another 100,000 said they would fly.

The numbers in the Southeastern region reflect a 2 percent reduction in air travel and a 1.3 percent decrease in auto travel compared to 2007.