Make or break? Bon-Ton giving away $1 million in gift cards today

Jon Harris/The Morning Call - If all you want for Christmas is a Bon-Ton gift card, we hope you started your day at one of the retailer’s area stores Wednesday morning.

That’s because, for the second consecutive year, The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. is giving away $1 million worth of gift cards just days before Christmas across its roughly 250 department stores in 24 states.

Starting at 7 a.m., the first 400 customers at each store were set to receive a gift card valued between $5 and $500. While there are several gift card values — $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 and $250 — there is only one $500 gift card at each store, spokeswoman Christine Hojnacki said.

Just before doors were set to open, a line had formed at the Bon-Ton location at Westgate Mall in Bethlehem.

The giveaway fits into Bon-Ton’s efforts during what one analyst characterized as a “make-or-break” holiday season for the company.

But retail expert Jeff Green, owner of Jeff Green Partners in Phoenix, wondered, “is it too little, too late?”

Bon-Ton certainly hopes not.

“Providing a special gift for our customers adds excitement to their shopping experience,” Steve Byers, Bon-Ton’s executive vice president of stores, said in a news release. “It’s the season of giving, and we know shoppers will appreciate receiving a free gift card from their hometown store this holiday season.”

In the Lehigh Valley — where the chain has a big presence because of its 1994 purchase of a large portion of what remained of Hess’s Department Stores — Bon-Ton has stores at South Mall in Salisbury Township, Westgate Mall in Bethlehem, Palmer Park Mall in Palmer Township, on Hamilton Boulevard in Trexlertown, and near Quakertown and Phillipsburg. An entrance at each store was designated with signs for the free giveaway.

Bon-Ton had the same giveaway last year, which Hojnacki said boosted foot traffic. “We had a good turnout,” she said of the previous giveaway, which came on Dec. 18, 2016. “It drove traffic in the morning for sure, and the customers really liked it.”

Bon-Ton is hoping for a similar result this year, at a time when the retailer could really use a boost.

Through the first three quarters of the year, Bon-Ton lost $135.4 million, compared with a loss of $108.1 million during the first nine months of last year. In the company’s third-quarter earnings release last month, Bon-Ton reported a 7.6 percent decline in total sales and announced a plan to close at least 40 locations over the next year.

However, the company has consistently reported double-digit growth in its omnichannel business, and for the four weeks ended Nov. 25 announced a 3.1 percent increase in comparable store sales.

Green, the retail expert, said the giveaway likely will get people in the store faster, though it may not do anything for the company’s bottom line.

“It’s certainly not going to do anything for their profits,” he said. “It might be better for their sales.”

If you happen to get to a Bon-Ton early enough on Wednesday morning to snag a gift card, the company said there are no exclusions or an expiration date. It can be given as a gift or used immediately, even in combination with coupons.

There is a limit of one gift card per person, and customers must be 18 or older to receive one.

The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., co-headquartered in York and Milwaukee, operates stores under the Bon-Ton, Bergner’s, Boston Store, Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s and Younkers nameplates.


MORNING RUSH

Bon-Ton is giving away $1 million in gift cards on Wednesday morning across its stores.

When: Starting at 7 a.m. Wednesday

Where: At its roughly 250 department stores, which includes six area locations

Why: To provide a "special gift" to its customers, while also attempting to boost foot traffic during a crucial holiday season for the ailing company