Nov 24 The holiday shopping season starts in
earnest on Thursday, with retailers anxious to see if U.S.
consumers are willing to spend despite an endless stream of
scary headlines about the fragile economy and their own
However, in the eyes of retailers, the shopping period has
been churning along for some time as retailers like Wal-Mart
Stores Inc and Toys R Usstarted early by
offering layaway programs, and others offering major deals to
These incentives have increased the stakes for retailers,
and when Americans are done with their turkey dinners on
Thursday, many will be getting a jump-start on 'Black Friday',
the biggest shopping day of the year, and one that sets the
tone for the entire season.
"If Thursday and Friday are not very good, chances are it
will not pick up going up to Christmas," said Keith Jelinek, a
director at consulting firm AlixPartners's retail practice.
WalMart, Gap Inc's Old Navy and Sears Holdings' K-Mart are again open on Thanksgiving Day to get a
headstart, while Toys R Us opens Thursday evening.
But to narrow the gap in store hours, discounter Target
Corp , electronics chain Best Buy and department
store chains Macy's Inc and Kohl's Corp will open
doors at midnight on Thursday.
Retailers themselves concede the pressure is on.
"At the end of the day, we are trying to respond to what
our customers want to do, and they are telling us that's when
they want to shop," Mike Vitelli, president, Americas and
enterprise executive vice president, Best Buy, told Reuters.
Others, like J.C. Penney Co Inc are taking their
chances and opting to open early Friday morning as they did
The National Retail Federation expects sales in November
and December to be up 2.8 percent over last year. So retailers
see little margin for error in their fight for sales.
The battle will also be waged online, where comScore
expects sales to be up 15 percent this year.
Wal-Mart starts its Black Friday 'doorbuster' deals on
Thursday at 10 p.m. at its stores. Amazon.com Inc , not
to be outdone, will offer its deals online at 9 p.m. But
Wal-Mart is also offering 30 percent more deals on
The knock-down-drag-out fight comes as the rebound in sales
cooled in October, when many top chains like Macy's and Saks
reported disappointing sales and shoppers were hit with a
steady stream of bad news about the economy.
It will be a tougher fight for chains that have struggled
of late, like Gap, Penney and electronics giant Best Buy.
PriceGrabber.com, a price comparison website, found that
searches for electronics in recent days were flat with last
year, helped only by a surge in interest in new tablets like
Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Inc's Nook.
The NRF expects 152 million people to hit stores this
weekend, up 10.1 percent from last year.
But that will be fueled by bargain hunting, with the real
test coming after the weekend, as retailers see if shoppers are
only willing to hit stores when there are juicer deals on the
table. Last year, after a strong Black Friday weekend, shoppers
sat on their hands until closer to Christmas - waiting for
stores to hand out bigger bargains.
"I think as time goes on, you're going to see a leveling
and a softness in the numbers," said Al Ferrara, director of
BDO USA's national retail practice.