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November 23, 2009

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Strong turnout seen for Black Friday retail sales

WHEN the United States holiday shopping season kicks off on the day after Thanksgiving, retailers can expect to see millions of less frightened but even more bargain hungry customers cross their thresholds.

Industry experts expect a strong turnout on Black Friday, which falls on November 27 this year, as deep discounts lure shoppers after more than a year of subdued spending. But they caution it will not mean a bumper holiday season in the weeks leading up to Christmas since consumers still remain cautious.

"Given what we know about consumer shopping patterns, even this month, I would suspect it will turn out to be a very strong performance," said Michael Niemira, chief economist of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Special promotion days have been big drivers of sales, he said, pointing to the lift retailers saw on the November 11 Veteran's Day holiday.

Retailers and Websites dedicated to Black Friday deals have leaked sales plans earlier than usual, in the hopes of sparking demand for flat panel televisions, toys and other goods after the worst holiday season in decades in 2008.

While the economy remains weak and unemployment has risen, American shoppers have had more than a year to adjust their spending and digest the bad news. In 2008, holiday shopping started just weeks after the global financial crisis erupted.

"Certainly last year was a year of tremendous uncertainty going into Black Friday because we were right in the middle of the storm," said Chris Donnelly, a partner in Accenture's retail practice. "There is much less panic, I would say, or much less uncertainty, as we go into the season."

Even so, more than 172 million shoppers visited stores and Websites from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday last year, up from 147 million in 2007, according to the National Retail Federation. The average amount of money spent by shoppers over that weekend rose 7.2 percent to US$372.57 per person.

Those numbers, however, did not prevent a sales drop of 2.8 percent for the entire shopping season last year, the first decline since the NRF began tracking such data in 1995.

While the NRF has not issued a Black Friday forecast, it expects 2009 holiday season sales to expand 1 percent.

The ICSC, meanwhile, forecast an increase of 1 percent to 2 percent.


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