December 21, 2012

It's all-hands-on-deck for final retail push

At L.L. Bean, top executives are abandoning their desks to work in the shipping department and answer customers' phone calls as retailers nationwide increasingly focus on speed.

David Sharp / The Associated Press

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LL Bean employees wear Santa Claus hats and antlers as they celebrate the holiday spirit while working in the company's order fulfillment center onThursday in Freeport. The outdoors store is making its final push to get things shipped in time for Christmas.

AP

The company does its best to keep customers happy. On that day, hundreds of shipments were being upgraded free of charge to UPS air to beat the first major winter storm in the Midwest.

McCormick said it's nice to get out among the workers but there's a practical purpose for having everyone pitch in, including the men and women at the upper echelon of the company.

On this day, the distribution center was behind schedule because snow had kept many workers home the day before. Administrators were called in to help get back on schedule.

Like most retailers, L.L. Bean makes half of its annual sales in the last two months of the year. And retailers are more than happy to oblige late shoppers, especially since holiday sales haven't been especially strong going into the final shopping weekend before Christmas, according to Michael McNamara, vice president for research and analysis at MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse.

Nationwide, the final retail push on Friday and Saturday is expected to yield $34 billion in total sales, accounting for roughly 8 percent of the $400 billion in December sales, McNamara said.

After Christmas, and the ensuing returns, the entire planning process starts anew.

"It's interesting being a retailer. You plan all year for four weeks. This is where we make most our sales and most of our money. After Christmas, you feel like you just ran a marathon and now you get back on the treadmill and you've got to do it again," McCormick said.

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