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Published: Friday, 10/8/2010

Retailers readying holiday game plan

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK - The Christmas shopping season doesn't start for six weeks, but retailers say they're prepared to discount aggressively to entice skittish shoppers.

Gift buyers are likely to scrutinize every purchase, from $20 toys to $1,000 designer jackets, do their homework before they buy, and limit how many stores they visit.

That could put stores in a jam because for many, holiday order deadlines were in spring when the economy looked more solid. Since then, several indicators and consumers' moods have darkened.

Retailers don't expect a flashback to 2008, when they were stung by shoppers who slashed spending after the financial meltdown. Stores had to mark down items as much as 90 percent to clear them out. That left an imprint on 2009, when retailers stayed profitable amid slow sales by stocking fewer items.

Most forecasters don't expect shoppers to spend much more this year than they did during last year's tepid season. Sales rose only 0.4 percent over 2008, when they slumped 3.9 percent, according to the National Retail Federation's calculations.

A lot is riding on holiday sales because they account for up to 40 percent of annual revenue for many retailers. For toy merchants, it's up to 50 percent.



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