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Fri, Nov 23, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Retailers hold their breath on Black Friday

START THE CASH REGISTERS The day after Thanksgiving is make or break for US retailers, who hope that shoppers will put economic and other worries behind them

AFP , WASHINGTON

The equivalent of six times the population of Australia, or all of Japan plus 5 million, are expected to be out shopping in the US today, one of the busiest days of the year for US retailers.

And while 133 million Americans out shopping might sound like a lot, that would be seven million less than the 140 million who turned out last year on what has come to be known as "Black Friday," data released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) show.

This year's Black Friday -- thus named because it helps tip retailers' accounts into the black, or profit, for the year -- could leave stores feeling blue, as Americans reel in their spending due to soaring fuel prices, a crumbling property market, record home foreclosures and a credit squeeze.

To get consumers to forget their economic and other worries -- such as an uncorroborated threat the FBI said it received last month, saying terrorists will target shopping malls this Christmas -- retailers are laying on lavish and quirky events.

"Malls will be offering programs such as pet photos with Santa, caroling by school and church groups, cook-offs, bake sales, and other promotions and contests to keep shoppers in the holiday spirit," the International Council of Shopping Centers said in a statement.

Christmas Kitsch

Near Washington, shopping malls were offering ethnic Santas, Santas who know sign language, children's parades and interactive Christmas villages with indoor snow, as they vie to create a unique experience that will convince consumers to shop with them.

The Mall in Columbia, halfway between Washington and Baltimore, last week unveiled the "Santastic" interactive Christmas village -- one of only three in the US -- and held a children's parade to welcome Santa Claus.

"This is all about creating an experience for families. We feel we provide a great environment for our customers. That's why we wanted to do something that has never been done in the industry," the mall's general manager Karen Geary said, refusing to comment on whether the event was aimed at drawing in potential customers.

She did say, however, that the numbers at the launch exceeded her expectations.

"We had tremendous interest. We were expecting 100 children, and we got twice that, with their parents," Geary said.

One mother at the launch said she had come to the mall just to see the Christmas village with her son, not to spend money.

After three hours, a few slices of pizza and a US$180 purchase that was reduced to US$60, she was heading home.

value

"Retailers know that customers are looking for good value this holiday season and many will be offering prices and promotions that are too good to pass up," Tracy Mullin, president of the NRF, said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the NRF reported that retailers were worried because Christmas shopping was getting off to a slow start.

But, the federation assured, "good news lies ahead for many retailers" because nearly three-quarters of American consumers had done less than 10 percent of their Christmas shopping early this month.

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