NEW YORK — Retailers from Safeway to RadioShack Corp. are offering special discounts to lure consumers in and persuade them to spend some or all of their economic stimulus checks, the first wave of which were deposited into bank accounts this week.
"It's going to be a real war in the stores starting this weekend" as retailers fight to get a piece of the checks, said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Research Group, a consumer industry consulting firm.
Retailers are all hoping to persuade Americans, worn out by high gas and food prices and the weak housing market, to spend the money rather than save it or pay down debt. Polls have indicated that most plan to use the rebates to buy gas, food and other essentials that have become far more expensive in the past year if they spend the money at all.
That makes persuading shoppers to buy a new dress, flat-screen TV or living room sofa a much harder sell.
"I think the retailer recognizes that they've got to strike while the check is hot," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at research firm NPD Group. "I think if you're a retailer and you're not trying to entice the consumer, you might as well go back to bed."
The checks and payments are part of a $168-billion tax rebate plan to help spur the lagging economy. Individuals who have filed their tax returns for the year can receive up to $600 and families can get up to $1,200, plus $300 per child. The direct deposits began Monday and paper checks go out Friday.
With sales declining, clothing and specialty retailers have been cutting prices for months. But this week, a few big names stepped up their efforts to try to turn the stimulus cash into extra sales. Wal-Mart announced price cuts on everything from cereal to shampoo on Tuesday to coincide with the first round of payments.
Other retailers are waiting until the weekend to offer their best deals, since more shoppers will be out on their days off.