Consumer Poll Position

Halloween may be weeks away, but analysts and research firms are already trying to answer the scary question: Will consumers spend a pretty penny this holiday season... or just a few bucks?

Shoppers take a break at the Baybrook Mall in Friendswood, Texas.
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Shoppers take a break at the Baybrook Mall in Friendswood, Texas.

So far, early surveys suggest the grim reaper won't mutilate the retailers' bottom line.

Kantar Retail released its holiday shopping survey last week. The consulting firm says retailers need to use some "promo mojo" to woo shoppers this season. It expects retail sales to increase by 2.5% versus 0.5% during the same time last year. But, Kantar says the period will feel weak compared to the "relatively strong pace of retail sales growth in the first three quarters."

Deloitte's retail group expects sales from November through January will rise two percent compared to a one percent increase last year.

America's Research Group finds more than 42% of consumers plan to spend less this year — while 11.7% say they'll spend more. Britt Beemer, the president of the consumer research firm, says he was "shocked" by the response in the survey of 1,000 people conducted from Sept. 7th to 10th.

Global Hunter Securities Consumer Strategist Richard Hastings, who is scheduled to speak at the University of Arkansas' Center for Retailing Excellence Conference on Wednesday, believes it's too premature to get a good reading on what the consumer will do.

He says, "Those putting out the holiday retail forecasts now are trying to get publicity ahead of the next guy. It's hard to get an accurate reading without knowing the next comp sales report and the Census Bureau retail sales figures." Hastings says you won't see his forecast for at least another couple of weeks.

That said, unemployment is still above nine percent and consumer confidence is at its lowest level since February. In a survey of one hundred chief financial officers from the nation's leading retailers, BDO USA finds less than a fifth of them plan to increase inventory in the fourth quarter.

Hopefully, shallow inventories won't mean we'll see the same items on sale from January 2008. The carcasses of recession past will, no doubt, be a hard sell.

Stephanie is Squawk Box producer and senior NetNet retail correspondent. Follow her on twitter @StephLandsman

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