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Holiday Sales Appear to Stall: Are Big Discounts Next?

Monday, 12 Dec 2011 | 3:57 PM ET

After early bird discounts fueled a Black Friday buying boom, retailers are seeing sales dry up halfway through the holiday sales period, a consumer survey completed Sunday showed. The trend may force discounts as deep as 70 percent on coats and flat panel TVs as Christmas Eve approaches.

Holiday shoppers outside
Getty Images
Holiday shoppers outside

Forty percent of consumers are completely done with their holiday shopping at this point, up from just 28 percent who were finished at the same time last year, according to the America’s Research Group/UBS Christmas Forecast Survey.

What’s more, only half of consumers hit the malls this last weekend, meaning those that are left are sitting on their hands awaiting bigger mark-offs, the survey showed.

“You could push them over the edge at this point with a 60 to 70 percent discount,” said Britt Beemer, CEO of ARG, who has been conducting the phone survey and marketing research for 27 years. “But most would probably use a credit card, as their budgets are depleted.”

November consumer sales, set to be released by the Commerce Department Tuesday, are expected to show a slight increase from last year’s levels on the late Black Friday boost in the month.

The stock market seems to reflect this discounting game of chicken between consumers and retailers taking place right now. The Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR ETF rallied, right on cue, off a recent low for the fund on Nov. 25, Black Friday. Since then, the fund has topped out and is little changed over the last week.

“While Black Friday sales appeared to give the retailers an early leg up in the season, I believe that continued high unemploymentand economic uncertainty will keep spending muted for the vast majority of American consumers,” said Patty Edwards of Trutina Financial.

“Retailers will announce a number of unplanned sales and discounts, hoping to surprise and delight customers into opening their wallets. The big question is how much is left in those wallets that isn't pledged to the light bill.”

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Edwards points to a release by Macy's on Monday. The department store said it will keep 14 stores open for 83 hours straight beginning at 7 a.m. on Dec. 21 and ending at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. The department store said an additional 27 stores will stay open until 2 a.m. over that same period.

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