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This holiday season will be like 'putting a rat down a boa's mouth': retail CEO

Brian Sozzi
·Editor-at-Large
·3 min read

As the former CEO of Collective Brands and Cole Haan — and current CEO of new consumer-focused SPAC Empower — Matt Rubel has pretty much seen it all during a 30-year career in retail.

Well, that was until what is shaping up to be an insanely chaotic holiday shopping season for retailers and consumers thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even Rubel isn’t 100% certain about how retailers will fare, but he is sure of one thing — it will be a “vibrant” few months for the sector.

“It will be like a rat through a boa come that November-December time period,” Rubel said on Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade. “Hence people are trying to pull things forward with October promotions to drive things through. The direct-to-consumer infrastructure is going to be stressed in a way that you have never seen before. It will be a very vibrant Christmas, especially if stimulus comes through at the same time. I’m not worried about total demand.”

Mask-wearing shoppers make their way down a concourse at the American Dream Mall, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, after the megamall reopened to the public. The complex was set to have a grand opening for dozens of retailers on March 19. But the mall shut down completely on March 16, as the country began to go on lockdown due tp concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Mask-wearing shoppers make their way down a concourse at the American Dream Mall, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, after the megamall reopened to the public. The complex was set to have a grand opening for dozens of retailers on March 19. But the mall shut down completely on March 16, as the country began to go on lockdown due tp concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Sensing the potential for shipping and out-of-stock chaos in December, numerous big-name retailers have pulled their key promotions and events into October and early November. Owing to the pandemic, Amazon’s Prime Day was moved to Oct. 13 to Oct. 14 instead of being held per the usual in mid-July. Three of Amazon’s chief rivals are holding ‘anti Prime Day’ events of their own this week. Best Buy will hold an ‘Early Black Friday’ event, Walmart is having a ‘Big Sale’ event and Target is coming in with a ‘Deals Day’ sales.

The goal of retailers holding these sales events now is twofold.

First is to drive sales today before an uncertain presidential election outcome, get products shipped to people’s homes and be done with them until after they return with gift cards post Christmas. By doing so, it will keep stress off an already taxed e-commerce pandemic supply chain.

The other is to keep shoppers safe during a pandemic that is very much still raging across the country. No retailer wants to be blamed for putting consumers at risk by offering a 70-inch TV for $5 on Black Friday ... in-store only.

“There is a concern around delay of shipments, quite frankly because people want to make sure those gifts are there for the holiday,” ICSC CEO Tom McGee told The First Trade.

While chaotic, McGee joins Rubel’s prediction of it being a solid holiday shopping season.

The ICSC recently forecast that holiday sales will increase 1.9% year over year. E-commerce sales are seen rising 25%.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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