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Retailers: 'Must Haves' Missing From Stores

Costco
Costco

I feel a bit like I'm on a news version of some struggling teen pop singer tour (don't they always include malls?) Lately I have been spending a lot of time in stores. Yesterday it was Costco in Clifton, NJ. In the past month work has sent me to: a New York City Best Buy , a Miami-area Wal-Mart , two malls in New Jersey and one on Long Island. That's just a few.

Everywhere I go people are well-aware of all of the reasons that they shouldn't be shopping; their houses are worth less, oil and gas are expensive, credit is less available, and the financial markets are in upheaval (though currently trading around record highs.) Still those things won't keep most people from celebrating the holidays in-style. Gifts will still be bought. Stockings will still be stuffed. Hanukkah gifts will still be purchased. Retailers just may not see the ebullient spending that they'd gotten used to over the past few years.

As we've been telling you, retailers aren't expecting to hit their original sales goals for the holiday-centered fourth quarter. May of them are lowering expectations so that Wall Street doesn't overreact when those weaker results are reported in January.

What can stores do? Give shoppers a reason to be buyers. Make them want to spend their dollars or at least feel less-guilty or able to purchase because of the sticker price. Promotions and markdown signs are going to be everywhere this season.

What I'd like to see though is innovation. Electronics are big sellers in part because there is always some gadget or game hitting the markets these days. Apparel though needs newness and excitement. The fashion cycle may be starting to change in magazines and on runways but those slight shifts aren't trickling down to the malls that much.

Where's the next Crocs or lycra-heavy skinny jeans trend? Retailers need 'must haves' now more than ever.

Questions? Comments? retaildetail@cnbc.com