UNION GAP — For most of the year, Cabela’s Outpost Store fights for customers with other retailers that sell outdoor, fishing and hunting gear.
But during the holiday season, the competition for the Cabela’s store, which opened in Union Gap in October, gets tougher.
“We’re really competing with everybody,” said Randy Longnecker, general manager of the store.
With all the competition for shoppers, the Sidney, Neb.-based outdoors store is going all out this holiday season, offering a variety of deals throughout the season along with holiday events every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
During the holidays, he said, retailers have an opportunity to attract shoppers outside their core-customer base.
“We definitely want to do the best we can to leave a great impression so they remember us during normal times of year,” Longnecker said.
Retailers such as Cabela’s have sharpened their retail strategy to get a bigger piece of what most anticipate will be a strong holiday sales season.
According to the National Retail Federation, sales during the holiday season — defined as the months of November and December — are expected to reach $586.1 billion, an increase of 4.1 percent from last year.
Meanwhile, ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based retail technology firm, predicts retail foot traffic will increase by 2.8 percent and sales by 3.3 percent.
Retailers are realizing they need to have solid strategies to draw consumers, who are much smarter shoppers today, said Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak.
“That’s because they have greater access to lots of information,” he said.
Retail has contributed to job growth in Yakima County. In 2011, the retail trade sector on average had just under 10,000 employees, representing nearly $253.7 million in wages. The number of jobs and wages increased by 5.9 percent and 13.9 percent, respectively, from five years ago.
Taxable sales in the retail trade sector during the fourth quarter of last year, which includes the holiday shopping season, were about $376.3 million, generating the highest percentage — 27.6 percent — of all retail trade sales in 2011.
About 23.1 percent of those fourth quarter sales came from Union Gap, which has become a regional retail center for the Yakima Valley over the last decade.
Union Gap will likely see more holiday sales this year with the recent opening of Washington Plaza, which is anchored by Cabela’s and J.C. Penney at the former Costco property.
Neighboring retailers anticipate more customer traffic from the new shopping center.
Michelle Lara, manager of the Old Navy Store at the neighboring Valley Mall Plaza, remembers that sales declined at Borders, where she worked previously, when Costco moved out of the space at 1400 E. Washington Ave. a few years ago.
“It’s been an empty parking lot that’s been good (for) no one,” Lara said.
Among Old Navy’s key strategies this year is offering different deals every four hours, starting at the midnight opening on Black Friday. The deals are staggered in hopes of drawing customers throughout the night.
The store is also providing things, such as a tear-out shopping list with suggested gift items, to enhance the customer experience.
“We’re definitely trying to customize more to shoppers’ needs and wants,” Lara said.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart, which has stores in West Valley and Terrace Heights, is also introducing new strategies, including a new guarantee for those in line on Thanksgiving night for three key doorbusters — a $38 Blu-Ray player, a $399 iPad 2 (with a $75 Wal-Mart gift card) and a $148 32-inch television. Under the new guarantee, anyone who is in line between 10 and 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving night will get those items at the advertised price, even if the store runs out of stock. Those customers will receive a piece of paper that promises the item by Christmas.
The store is also offering to match prices offered by other retailers except online sellers.
A lot of these new strategies are the result of customer feedback over the years, said Rachel Wall, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.
“This year, we’re looking to strike a balance between being competitive and meeting customer demand,” she said.
Another key factor in this holiday season is its length: Thanksgiving this year falls on the earliest date since 2007. That means the holiday season is 32 days long, two days longer than last year and five days longer than 2008.
For Cabela’s, the longer holiday season means one more newspaper circular, said Longnecker, the manager in Union Gap. The earlier ads focus more on deals that shoppers can use for gifts or buy for themselves, while the later ads will take aim at procrastinators looking for easy gift and stocking stuffers.
Lara said the Old Navy store decided to move some sales from other parts of the year to December to increase holiday shopping.
“The company has done a good job strategically placing powerful sales throughout the month of December,” she said.
Retail analysts agree that retailers have a great opportunity to make the most of a longer holiday season.
ShopperTrak predicts that Black Friday will likely be the busiest shopping day — in both sales and traffic — of the holiday season. But eight of the other top 10 busiest days in the holiday shopping season fall in December.
There will likely be a lull in the week following Thanksgiving weekend, but retailers should see store traffic return in the two weeks prior to Christmas, said Martin, the ShopperTrak founder.
“Wallets have a chance to be replenished,” he said. “You get the procrastinators.”
• Mai Hoang can be reached at 509-759-7851 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.