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The competition between the large shopping malls these days focuses on one main area: special sales days. "Shocking Sale," "Boxing Day," "Stock Day" and "Euro 2004 Final Celebrations for Women Only" are just a few of the creative names selected by the malls for recent special sales days. Most of the malls offer discounts of up to 70 percent in most stores, but the festivities will reach their peak this weekend, when the Azrieli Group, which operates seven malls, has its special sale day.

Practically every mall seems to have brought its special sales days forward in an effort to outpace all the rest. Haifa's Grand Canyon mall finished a special two-day sale Monday, called Boxing Day, named after the big sales held in America the day after Christmas. Mall manager Yisrael Savyon explains that he scheduled the sale for June because it is a "dead" month for retailers.

Savyon says some 60,000 shoppers visited the mall each day of the sale, far more than the 84,000 shoppers who came to the mall's two-day sale marking the beginning of summer last year. Savyon estimates the mall's revenues from sales at NIS 2.5-3 million during each day of the Boxing Day sale.

The Azrieli Group, which owns the Negev, Holon, Azrieli, Ayalon, Jerusalem Malha, Margalit Hasharon and Herzliya Outlet malls, fired the opening shot of the special sales days.

Moshe Rosenblum, manager of the Seven Stars mall, says that Stock Day, held by the group for the first time two years ago, was considered a big success, prompting all the malls to hold special sales days.

"People love special sales days and the retail chains see them as an opportunity to start their end-of-season sales," says Rosenblum.

On July 4, the Seven Stars mall will hold 2004 Euro Final Celebrations for Women Only. While Israel Television Channel 1 is broadcasting the final game of the 2004 Euro Cup soccer tournament, the mall will offer special discounts on fashions and entertainment. Rosenblum estimates that both shopper traffic and sales will be twice those of a regular day. Even so, Rosenblum admits he is not a fan of special sales days.

"They are days when sales receipts go up, but when factored into the monthly averages, they actually hurt revenues," he says.

In contrast, Pe'er Nadir, director of the Azrieli Group's malls, says that in the past two months, during which special sales have been held, there has actually been higher average monthly sales than in regular months. The Azrieli Group decided this year to change the name of its special sales day from Stock Day to Shocking Day. "The main thing is not the name," says Nadir, "but rather the volume of special offers." The new name is supposed to differentiate between the special sales day at the malls and the Stock Day sales held by other malls and retail chains.

The Azrieli Group is holding its Shocking Day sale today and tomorrow, and Nadir says most of the 1,000 stores at the group's malls will be participating. Nadir promises "unprecedented discounts, in addition to the regular end-of-season discounts" and notes that the group is investing NIS 1.5 million in a four-day advertising campaign. The group's management is hoping for four times the usual number of shoppers during both days of the sale. Sales at the group's seven malls from the special sales days last year totaled NIS 45 million.

The Golden mall in Rishon Letzion is sticking with the Stock Day name. The mall holds Stock Day sales four times a year, at the end of each season, with the current sale ending tomorrow. The mall's management is expecting some 35,000 shoppers on each day of the sale. During the previous sale, shopper traffic was 29,000-35,000 each day. The Golden mall is hoping for NIS 3.5-4 million in sales each day. Daily sales during the last Stock Day sale were about NIS 3.3 million.

The Arim mall in Kfar Sava realized the tremendous importance of being first, and held its "Exceptional Shopping" sale on June 9-10.

"This year the sale was brought forward two weeks, compared to summer 2003, in response to requests from customers," explains Orit Gilad, marketing vice president for the mall. "Many people were preparing for trips abroad and were looking for travel collections; others were looking for clothes for parties marking the end of the ]school[ year. Summer sales receipts were up by 25 percent over 2003."

Benny Cohen, manager of the malls division at Africa Israel, says the group's malls - Savyonim, Talpiot and Haifa's Lev Hamoshava-City Center - will hold a special sales day this month.

Africa Israel does not hold special sales days at its Ramat Aviv mall, since they harm the all's luxury status, explains Cohen. "There's not much point in those special offers. They are intended for liquidating the poorest quality merchandise, and in Ramat Aviv there is never merchandise of that standard."

When exactly is a season? In the past two weeks, most of the fashion chains have begun their end-of-season sales.

"It's hard to tell when it's the end of the season and when it's the season," laments Moshe Rosenblum, manager of the Seven Stars mall.

The fashion chains blame the early end-of-season sales on Castro, which brought its sale dates forward this year. Sources at Castro claim, however, that their 2004 end-of-season sale started just two days ago, whereas last year it started on June 18. Some of the other chains did start their end-of-season sales earlier, on June 9, when Castro had a one-day special - a NIS 200 discount on purchases totaling NIS 500 or more.

Gabi Rotter, Castro's owner and CEO, says that sale was aimed at increasing purchases by loyal customers and was not an end-of-season sale, the purpose of which is to liquidate stock.

"Anyone who counted it as an end-of-season sale was confused," says Rotter, noting that only people who spent substantial sums enjoyed the discount, and many buyers paid full price for their purchases. Rotter adds that this was an innovative special that produced excellent results.

As for liquidating stock, Rotter says that Castro's problem at the moment is not surplus inventory, but a shortage of it. The closing of the industrial zone near the Erez checkpoint has made it difficult to get merchandise to stores.

Yisrael Savyon, manager of Haifa's Grand Canyon mall, says early end-of-season sales are a sign of a weak market. However, Pe'er Nadir, director of the Azrieli Group's malls disagrees, saying the first five months of this year were good and that there are signs of a "gradual recovery." Nadir says the reason for the advancing of the end-of-season sales is "surplus inventory and publicly traded companies that want to improve their results for a quarter that is traditionally weaker."