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Sears' holiday sale could set off area price war


Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s recent decision to slash prices on apparel and durable goods and offer zero-percent financing on home electronics and furniture could touch off an even hotter pricing war among area retailers, who already are battling for the cautious consumer's dollar this holiday season.

The nation's largest retailer said Friday that it was launching a pre-Christmas sale, abandoning the implied no-sale policy it started with its "everyday low pricing" strategy two years ago.

The move was prompted by sluggish sales attributed to a possible recession and the uncertainty in the Middle East.

Now, national retailers that compete with Sears in the Baltimore market, among them Caldor and Value City, said they will consider adjusting their prices as well.

"We shop our competition pretty regularly," said Gary Tittle, spokesman for Ohio-based Value City Department Stores. "On comparable items we will have to make sure they don't beat us."

Value City has three stores in the Baltimore area, at Westview, Eastpoint and Harundale malls.

"As of yet, we have nothing scheduled to combat Sears' most recent move, but who's to say what will happen" as the Christmas season progresses, said Rita Meyer, spokeswoman for Connecticut-based Caldor.

Caldor has several stores throughout the Baltimore area but competes heavily with Sears in the Glen Burnie area.

A K mart spokesman could not be reached for comment yesterday, but the retailer has been touting low prices aggressively all season.

All of this means lower prices for consumers, who are said to be shopping around more than usual this year for the best prices and waiting until later in the season to buy, analysts said yesterday.

"It's hard not to respond to other retailers' price-cutting in the present market. Twenty percent isn't going to do it. Retailers still have a way to go," said Andrew Regan, retailing analyst for Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette.

However, a few retailers said yesterday they had no plans to stray from the sales plans they already have for the Christmas season.

"We have a very sound promotional calendar," said Peggy Disney, promotional director for Hecht's, which is having special sales. "We won't alter because of the economy or what anyone else is doing."

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