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Coming off of a weak back-to-school shopping period, a research firm expects holiday sales growth will be slower this year during the crucial holiday season. Shoppers are also expected to visit fewer stores as they research purchases online.
Retail revenue in November and December should rise 2.4 percent during the biggest shopping period of the year, Chicago-based research firm ShopperTrak said Tuesday. That compares with a 3 percent increase in 2012 from 2011.
"Although the economy continues to recover slowly, consumers remain cautious about spending and are not ready to splurge," said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin.
(Read more: Here's why you're already seeing those Christmas ads)
This week, a million New York school children headed back to classrooms with summer vacation still fresh in their minds and much of the country sweltering as temperatures hovered in the 80s.
So naturally, with Halloween still 48 days away, retailers are rolling out Christmas programs.
Small might be beautiful, but it can also be dangerous – at least in the beer business – according to investment bank Nomura, which has downgraded some of the world's largest brewers as success in the craft beer industry threatens to chip away at volumes and profit margins.
"We believe the growth of craft represents both an opportunity (especially for small brewers) as well as a threat (especially for the larger names), not just in the U.S., but in most mature markets," research analysts at Nomura, led by Ian Shackleton, said in a research note on Thursday.
The bank downgraded its rating on AB InBev - the world's largest brewer which produces Beck's, Stella and Budweiser - to "reduce" from "neutral", along with SAB Miller, which brews Fosters, Grolsch and Miller's. It kept Dutch company Heineken on a "reduce" rating.
Nomura highlighted that these large, traditional brewers have failed to keep up with moving trends. Beer is moving closer to the wine model, the bank said, where consumers like to choose different drinks, as opposed to the traditional beer model, where consumers aspire to the same brands.
The world's largest retailer unveiled a smartphone trade-in program in the U.S., just in time for the anticipated new iPhones. The move is likely to increase the competition among retailers that allow customers to swap their old phones for a credit to buy a new phone.
Starting Sept. 21 in more than 3,600 Walmart stores and Sam's Club locations, consumers can get an instant credit, ranging from $50 to $300, for the trade-in value for more than 100 smartphones. That credit will then be immediately applied to the purchase of a new smartphone. The devices need to be in good, working condition in order to qualify for the highest level of trade-in credit, as determined through an assessment with an in-store Wal-Mart associate.
"What's great about our program is the simplicity of it," said Steve Bratspies, executive vice president of general merchandise for Wal-Mart U.S. "We aren't going to be nitpicking the customer on 'Is it scratched,' or 'does it have stickers on it?' We are going to ask five really simple questions, like, 'Does it turn on? Is the screen cracked? Are the security codes removed from it?' Really basic questions."
As the wireless wars heat up, Wal-Mart is paying attention to the latest data from market researcher NPD Group that reveals 55 percent of consumers expect to trade-in a phone the next time they upgrade devices, and more importantly, 62 percent say they will consider a different retailer if it means getting a better deal on a smartphone trade-in.
Many U.S. retailers reported stronger-than-expected August sales on Thursday, but they had to use steep discounts to woo back-to-school shoppers.
The unusually high level of discounting raised concerns about margins for this quarter. It also showed that apparel chains might have to keep offering bigger incentives at a time when consumers are spending more on their homes, cars and other durable items.
The level of discounting "was certainly higher than last year," said Ken Perkins, president of consulting firm Retail Metrics. "They seem to be above the norm. That was emblematic of just the lack of demand for back-to-school."
(Read more: McDonald's 'Dollar Menu' testing $5 items)
The back-to-school season is the second-biggest selling period of the year for U.S. retailers, behind the winter holidays.
McDonald's says a revamped version of its "Dollar Menu" that includes items priced at $5 could be launched nationally this year.
The world's biggest hamburger chain says it has been testing versions of its famous value menu that's called "Dollar Menu & More" in five markets across the country. The company noted that no official changes have yet been made to its current Dollar Menu, which was introduced more than a decade ago.
The change would come after McDonald's unsuccessful attempt last year to get customers to switch from the Dollar Menu to a pricier "Extra Value Menu," which features items costing closer to $2. But after sales flagged, the company went back to aggressively touting its Dollar Menu in TV ads.
(Slideshow: Yum or Yuck? Cutting-Edge Restaurant Menu Items)
If the new "Dollar Menu & More" is rolled out, the Extra Value Menu would be retired, said Neil Golden, chief marketing officer for McDonald's, which is based in Oak Brook, Ill.
Heineken is hoping to jump-start sales of its struggling light brand by taking a page out of the craft beer playbook.
The brewery is changing the flavor profile of Heineken Premium Light by adding Cascade hops, one of the most popular craft beer styles. The hops are found in brews such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Anchor Steam Liberty Ale.
"What we see and hear a lot about light beer now is consumers have become tired of the taste—the light brands are a little too watery for them and not a rewarding enough experience," said Olga Osminkina, senior brand director at Heineken USA. "Cascade hops are not a familiar addition to a light type of beer, so that's going to put Heineken Light in a different category."
(Read more: Bad buzz for brewers as light beer sales slip)
Heineken Light hopes to differentiate itself as the light beer category finds itself struggling.
Retailers and analysts try hard to understand the teenage mind, which is no easy task. Some teen retailers seem to be striking the right cords with teens, while others are out of tune.
Earlier this week, just before school starts back up in New Jersey, I joined eight local teens, ranging in age from 13 to 18, trying to better understand what's hot and what's not for back-to-school and beyond.
Here's what I learned.
(Read more: Teens are shopping—just not at traditional malls)
Fast-food customers in search of burgers and fries on Thursday might run into striking workers instead.
Organizers say thousands of fast-food workers are set to stage walkouts in dozens of cities around the country, part of a push to get chains such as McDonald's, Taco Bell and Wendy's to pay workers higher wages.
It's expected be the largest nationwide strike by fast-food workers, according to organizers. The biggest effort so far was over the summer when about 2,200 of the nation's millions of fast-food workers staged a one-day strike in seven cities.
Under scrutiny over a series of disasters at Bangladesh garment factories, Wal-Mart plans to field questions from investors at a briefing on Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
Carol Schumacher, Wal-Mart's vice president of global investor relations, told the Journal that the company's goal was "to provide an update on this area of the business and to give you the opportunity to ask questions."
Last November, Wal-Mart was faulted for having a clothing line made at a Bangladesh factory where a blaze killed more than 100 people. Then earlier this year, after a building collapse in the country killed more than 1,100, Wal-Mart took heat for declining to sign a pact to boost worker safety.
A company spokesman told the Journal the briefing is meant to update stakeholders on its plans to improve worker safety in Bangladesh.
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Christina Cheddar Berk is editor of CNBC.com's Consumer Nation and chief trend spotter.
Courtney is a retail reporter for CNBC.
Tom is a Senior Editor and Assignment Desk Manager for CNBC TV. He also writes about the business of beer for CNBC.com.
Stephanie Landsman is one of the producers of CNBC's 5pm ET show "Fast Money."
CNBC Segment Producer
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