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Retailers Gird for Battle with Black Friday Deals

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New tricks for what could be a dismal holiday season.

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Retailers are stocking the store shelves with care in hopes that consumers will soon be there. Major retailers are counting on deals and coupons to coax consumers out of their spending hibernation.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are less than a week away, and retailers like Walmart (WMT), Sears (SHLD), and Target (TGT) are rolling out commercials and circulars to promote the deals that the industry is hoping will start a holiday shopping frenzy.

Walmart said its stores will open at 5 a.m. on Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday. The world's largest retailer plans to have special online-only savings on Thanksgiving and is pushing a variety of products through sales, including HDTVs.

Meanwhile, Sears is pushing a sweepstakes through its Facebook fan site that will award 25 shoppers the opportunity to take advantage of the Black Friday deals on the day before Thanksgiving.

Target is kicking off the holiday shopping season with its "first-ever Thanksgiving Day sale and incredible cyber week deals." The sales will include deep discounts and free shipping on hot gift items.

Yet all of the retailers' efforts could be in vain if consumers don't open their wallets this year. Last year's holiday shopping season was one of the worst on record for retailers as the recession took hold of the nation, with sales declining 3.4% over the course of the entire holiday season in 2008. A year later, conditions haven't improved much -- some might say they've even got worse, as unemployment climbs past 10%.

Retailers could be in for a rough holiday. ShopperTrak, a global traffic management company, predicts Black Friday (Nov. 27), Super Saturday (Dec. 19), and the day after Christmas (Dec. 26) will be the strongest days this holiday season. The company expects a 4.2% decline in foot traffic this year as compared to last year.

"As the global economy continues to recover from the worst economic crisis most retailers have ever seen, Americans will focus primarily on practical gifts and shop on a budget this holiday season," said the National Retail Federation Chief Economist Rosalind Wells.

The NRF said US consumers plan to spend an average of $682.74 on holiday-related shopping, a 3.2% drop from last year's average of $705.01.

As many as 134 million people will hit the stores in hopes of major sales on the weekend following Thanksgiving, said a survey done by BIGresearch for the NRF. According to the survey, 57 million people say they will definitely hit the stores while another 77 million are waiting to see what retailers are planning before heading out.

"Regardless of what we've already seen these last few weeks in terms of promotions, retailers still have a few tricks up their sleeves to excite Black Friday shoppers," said NRF Chief Executive Tracy Mullin.

According to a survey on Shop.org, almost 40% of retailers plan to tap into the Web to promote their Black Friday deals, while more than three-fourths of retailers will send a special email to customers about the savings offers.

But buyer beware! Many of the Black Friday offerings come with an asterisk, indicating the stores will have only a limited number of sale items available or that rain checks won't be given out once the stockroom has run dry.

Last year, Sears ran into an issue when it promised to fulfill all of its rain checks on a certain deal for a washer-drier set. The company was unable to manufacture the product fast enough to meet demand and many consumers didn't get the product until months later or were given a different product of equal value.

Also, beware of ordering products online; stores may run out of the merchandise before it ever arrives at your house, resulting in an email a few weeks later telling you your order was canceled.


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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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