But not all mall-based retailers will feel the squeeze. Victoria's Secret parent L Brands continues to top many analysts' lists of predicted holiday winners. And although teen retailer American Eagle has been lumped in with those challenged by broader apparel deflation, analysts noted its fashion and sales continue to improve.
Along those lines, J.C. Penney is entering the holiday season as the surprise front-runner among department stores, after posting the strongest same-store sales results during the third quarter.
As far as the big off-mall retailers, analysts are waiting to see whether Wal-Mart's decision to draw the line on free shipping of online orders will pay off. Meanwhile, Target noted in its third-quarter earnings call that it's encouraged by its momentum.
And Best Buy warned that a decline in broader consumer electronics sales could weigh on its performance in the fourth quarter.
"Many stores selling strictly discretionary goods will find this another tough season, with excess inventory and rampant promotions," Johnson said.
The laundry list of anticipated winners and losers this holiday season, conjures up memories of last holiday. That shows just how important it is for retailers to continue churning out innovative merchandise, to keep things interesting for their customers, said Farla Efros, president of HRC Advisory.
Joe Jackman, CEO of Jackman Reinvents, added that it's easier for retailers who are experiencing sales gains to keep their momentum, as they have the cash necessary to invest in digital or other growth.
"In fashion, you're only as good as your last season," Efros said. "Quarter to quarter, it's super critical to get it as right as possible."