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Holly Green is more than just the color of some holiday decorations this year – the fictional character is a symbol of savings for cash-strapped times.

Dubbed its “ambassador of sales and sustainability” by creator Inland Western Real Estate Trust, an illustration of Green appears on the company’s holiday advertisements. A real-life Holly will make guest appearances at 20 Inland malls throughout the season offering coupons and environment-friendly tote bags. She’s a natural extension of concerns this season about attracting shoppers to the mall during a down economy.

“The interest in green is nationwide, and consumers are looking to save money,” says Cherilynn Megill, vice president of marketing for Inland Western, Oak Brook, IL.

The character also has a website, Holly Green Guru, where she discusses simple ways to practice a more sustainable lifestyle through everyday solutions, while simultaneously sharing cost-effective and eco-friendly gift giving ideas. The site even has an online budget planner to allow shoppers to plan their purchases. In addition, the site asks shoppers to give suggestions of their own, with an opportunity to win one of five $1,000 shopping sprees.

That money can come in handy: Numbers have varied, but most associations and economists have predicted a miserable holiday selling season. The International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey reported in early November that 37% of consumers planned to cut back their spending this year, up 10% from 2007.

Even online sales, which are expected to rise, will do so at a dramatically reduced rate. Internet sales across retail channels are forecast to grow 9% this holiday season, compared with a total retail sales forecast of just 1.5% percent growth this year in the key holiday shopping retail sectors, says the Consumer Internet Barometer, a quarterly report produced by the Conference Board, the global business research and membership organization, and TNS, a global market insight and information group. The two New York City-based firms survey 10,000 households across the country.

While a 9% increase may seem impressive, that growth is down sharply from the double- and even triple-digit increase of the recent past, says Mary Brett Whitfield, director of the Retail Forward Intelligence System of TNS Retail Forward.

“This fourth quarter would be the first in online retail that has only grown at a single-digit pace,” Whitfield says.

To a small degree, the saturation of online retail could be a factor in the slowdown.

“Once it becomes a mass-market function, you’ve attracted all the shoppers you’re going to get,” Whitfield acknowledges. That, combined with the economic crisis, will result in Internet retail that will be as promotional as its brick-and-mortar cousins, creating even more competition. In addition to reduced prices, free shipping and other promotions can be found on the Web.

Another factor in this heavily discount-oriented season is inventory, noted Brent Jameson, a director at Mesa, AZ-based Guidon Performance Solutions. Stock levels can determine which stores are more promotional this season. Many apparel retailers, which must have stock in multiple sizes and colors, ordered their holiday merchandise in the spring, and are looking to minimize storage by running promotions now.

“They have to do something about their inventory,” Jameson says. Other chains, which do not have to sell as specifically, may not cut prices as much. And retailers should examine their infrastructure to make sure they have the right merchandise at the right time, according to Jameson, reducing the number of goods that are shipped to off-price stores such as Stein-Mart and TJ Maxx.

That leaves developers in the position of helping to draw traffic to help their tenants. Inland isn’t alone in using value to encourage shoppers to get away from their computers to the mall. Simon Property Group has created in essence a clearinghouse of promotional offers from its retailers, and will promote sales on its website, via email blasts, and at the centers’ guest services booths.

“You can go to simon.com, find a grid for your mall, click on a retailer and [promotions],” says Les Morris, director of communications for Indianapolis-based Simon. “We can emphasize the depth and breadth of the merchandise, Santa Claus, and the things that they may not get at the big box stores.”

In addition, the company is adding services including rejuvenation stations (which offer soft seating and projection televisions in some centers), preferred parking for car poolers, free valet parking at some centers, and early hours. Even some Chelsea Premium Outlet and Mills centers will open at midnight on Black Friday.

Other mall developers also are encouraging shopper traffic this weekend. General Growth Properties is continuing its Rockin’ Shoppin’ Eve, in which select centers, including Altamonte Mall near Orlando; Carolina Place in Charlotte, NC; and Jordan Creek in West Des Moines, IA; will open at 12:01 a.m. Music, giveaways and complimentary coffee and hot cocoa will add to the party atmosphere.

The promotional atmosphere is not likely to end anytime soon. Inland already plans to keep Holly Green around long after Dec. 25, Megill says. Individual Simon centers may keep their clearinghouse in operation during the post holiday season, Morris says.

What is clear, however, is that value is king this holiday season.

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