Alarmed by the financial meltdown, stores nationwide are slapping sale signs on everything from fall sweaters to furniture — frantically trying to attract shoppers who are cutting back.
Some analysts were already expecting the weakest sales growth for the holiday season in 24 years, and with uncertainty roiling the banking system and a teetering economy, they figure Americans will make their lists and check them three or four times.
“I haven't seen this kind of fright since 9-11,” said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of real estate firm Prudential Douglas Elliman's retail leasing sales division. She said stores are “all arming themselves for what is probably the most difficult season across the board.”
At malls, shopping districts and on the Web, the discounts are growing desperate. “Up to 60 percent off,” say signs at AnnTaylor LOFT stores, “50 percent off” at Old Navy. Restoration Hardware Inc. e-mailed $100 gift vouchers out to customers Thursday for purchases of $400 or more.
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Holiday items are starting to flow into stores — and they're expected to be marked down immediately, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD Group Inc.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, is opening its Christmas shops a week earlier than last year to lure shoppers. Wal-Mart is also cutting prices on 10 popular toys to $10 each. Holiday catalogs are already arriving in the mail.
But it may take more than sale signs and promotions to spur shoppers, who have been dealing for months with high gas and food prices, weaker job and housing markets and tighter credit.
Many economists predict spending could deteriorate as the problems on Wall Street cascade through the economy, with layoffs expected to rise and frozen credit markets meaning shoppers are having a harder time getting loans and credit lines. Eight in 10 fear the financial crisis will affect them directly, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.
Noelle Snow, 41, of Deerfield, Ill., said the economic turmoil has made her cut her holiday budget for her two children to $200 from $500.
“I'm just trying to sock away what I can between budgeting for a couple of things that have broken in my house,” said Snow, who worries about her job in financial services and her stock funds. “I'd rather put that money toward a couple of things.”
Holiday orders from clothing stores were already about 15 percent below last year's, and some stores are now canceling orders, said Arnold Cohen, co-founder of Mahoney Cohen and Co., an accounting firm for the apparel industry.
And industry figures indicate more shoppers are just staying home. Some industry sales forecasts say the holiday season could have the weakest growth since the early 1980s.