US retailers were set to usher in the holiday shopping season yesterday with pre-dawn openings, deep discounts and a downright dismal economic outlook that threatens to keep shoppers’ credit cards securely in their wallets.
Stores are extending their hours — some opening at midnight — and preparing for a surge of shoppers searching for discounts that promise to be even deeper than a year ago. But the question remains whether anyone will be spending much money before Christmas as a recession nears, credit markets remain frozen, layoffs loom and consumer spending shrinks.
Retailers fear a looming recession could cost them dearly during the period that brings in up to 40 percent of annual sales. Many started offering steep discounts on everything from clothes to electronics weeks in advance of Thanksgiving.
“We think the numbers are going to be pretty bad across the board,” Morningstar analyst Brady Lemos said.
Black Friday, named because it was often the sales-packed day when retailers would become profitable for the year, was the biggest sales generator of the season last year. While it isn’t a predictor of holiday season sales, the day after the US Thanksgiving holiday is an important barometer of people’s willingness to spend.
Last year, the Thanksgiving shopping weekend of Friday through Sunday accounted for about 10 percent of overall holiday sales, ShopperTrak RCT Corp said.
The group hasn’t released estimates for Black Friday sales this year, but experts believe it will remain one of the season’s biggest selling days, even as shoppers remain deliberate in their spending.
The holiday shopping season runs through year end, with the lion’s share of sales made by Christmas Day on Dec. 25.
Shoppers said they would be more careful when buying gifts this year, a message they also delivered to their children.
“We’re talking about being more conservative this Christmas, keeping in mind what other people are going through,” said Ana Lewis, with three of her kids in tow. “I’m a bargain shopper anyway. But the bigger impact is with the kids, they have become more aware.”
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