Crystal ball murky for national retailers

The holiday shopping season is nearly upon us, and the level of concern among national retailers is palpable.

I plan on checking in with local retailers over the next couple of weeks, but it's apparent from last week's news that national stores are preparing for a very challenging season. Last week, The Commerce Department reported a record decline in sales last month, dropping 2.8 percent compared to September and down 4.1 percent from a year ago. Companies such as Best Buy reported a "seismic" shift in spending, as consumers tightly held onto their wallets.

While those numbers don't seem to bode well for the next six weeks, some speculate that there might be some strength in holiday sales. A poll released by Reuters and the University of Michigan last week found confidence unexpectedly rising, with dropping gas prices one of the factors cited.

There is also the theory of pent-up demand; that consumers are waiting for the deals and discounts that tend to start the day after Thanksgiving. K-Mart has already been offering Black Friday type sales, while Target and Wal-Mart have been offering weekly price cuts. There have also been leaks about Black Friday ads are showing very significant discounts. These ads can be found at a variety of Web sites, including,, and

There's been a variety of other studies on the national economy, trying to gauge what will be happening this holiday season.

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