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Your Stimulus Check: Sears Has Plans For It, If You Don't

Wednesday, 16 Apr 2008 | 2:02 PM ET
Sears
Sears

Cash your stimulus check at Sears and the company will give you a bonus gift card worth 10 percent of that check. What's the catch? You have to cash your entire check and trade it in for a giftcard that has to be redeemed at a Sears, Kmart or a Land's End sometime between May 14 and July 19th.

Sears is the first retailer that I've seen launch a marketing campaign aimed at capturing that stimulus-check payout that many Americans will receive in May. Personally, I got a kick out of seeing Sears take the lead on this marketing considering that we haven't seen big players announce programs yet. It is nice to see Sears fighting back for the marketshare that they've been losing to Wal-Mart and Target .

Here's the challenge: Most surveys that I've seen indicate that Americans are planning to spend these checks by paying down debt. This campaign is a strategy aimed at those consumers who consider the payouts as "free money" rather than a lifeline. Watch for Wal-Mart and other discounters to launch strong marketing campaigns timed to the check payout period.

Most analysts expect any stimulus spending boost to be a mild one and short-lived. Many expect consumers to do what they say they intend to do with those checks - pay down debt. For the others who intend to spend, the checks are likely to go toward basics or items that will help Americans "nest."

The April survey from BigResearch showed that while Americans are putting off buying discretionary items like TVs, cars and furniture right now, they do intend to spend on these items within the next six months.

That could be a sign that consumers who want to spend their rebates will do so on household refurbishments and entertainment. In short, consumers are "nesting" and choosing cheaper at-home entertainment as an alternative to dining out or paying for expensive vacation packages.

I'll be following this consumer story across America in the next few weeks. Please let me know what you're seeing in your towns across the country. What stores are doing well? Are you seeing more bankruptcies of small businesses or closures of big chains? What do the front lines of the consumer slowdown look like right now?

I'm anchoring the 3 pm hour of the "Closing Bell" today so no retail reports on-air..I'll be back on the beat tomorrow.

Questions? Comments? retaildetail@cnbc.com

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