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November 28, 2009

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US retailers usher in holiday season with deep discounts

RETAILERS ushered in the traditional start of the holiday shopping season in the United States yesterday with expanded hours and deep discounts on everything from toys to TVs to lure shoppers worried about high unemployment and tight credit.

A number of stores, including Wal-Mart and many Old Navy locations, opened on the Thanksgiving day holiday on Thursday, hoping to make the most of the extra hours. Toys "R" Us opened most of its stores just after midnight yesterday.

Online sellers also pushed to grab a piece of the action, pushing deals on Thursday and even earlier in the week.

After suffering the worst sales decline in several decades last holiday season, the good news is that the retail industry is heading into the Christmas selling period armed with lean inventories and more practical goods on their shelves that reflect shoppers' new psyche.

Still, with unemployment at 10.2 percent and consumers still struggling with tight credit, many analysts expect that total holiday sales will be at best about even from a year ago.

Optimism was rising in early fall as shoppers came to life, but stores have seen a sales slowdown since right after Halloween, putting merchants more on edge.

"There are going to be ebbs and flows," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry analyst at NPD Group Inc, a market research firm, noting financial challenges among shoppers.

At Macy's flagship store in New York, dozens of women were rummaging through a bin of purses marked 40 percent off the original price. Jean Howard, from Cork, Ireland, said she planned to buy for her three children and spend the same this year, regardless of the weak economy.

"We have a recession back home in Ireland, as well, but our list is still the same," Howard said. "We don't get depressed when we're shopping!"

Late Thursday, people lined up 200 deep for the midnight opening at the Toys R Us store in Manhattan's Times Square. Some were tourists who had jumped in line after watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade; others were New Yorkers wanting to get a good deal.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, has lures like deeply discounted 42-inch plasma Emerson HDTVs for US$448, and other electronics like US$78 Magnavox Blu-ray disc players, for the early morning specials.

America's largest electronics chain, Best Buy Co, had such deals as US$999.99 Samsung 46-inch flat-panel TVs, a savings of US$700.


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