Modest discounts, fiscal cliff deter last-minute shoppers

Sat Dec 22, 2012 4:30pm EST
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By Dhanya Skariachan and Phil Wahba

NEW YORK/WESTBURY, New York (Reuters) - Retailers may not see a sales surge this weekend as ho-hum discounts and fears about imminent tax hikes and cuts in government spending give Americans fewer reasons to open their wallets in the last few days before Christmas.

The acrimonious debate in Washington over how to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" is one of a number of concerns weighing on shoppers, experts said, as consumers head to malls on the last Saturday ahead of the holiday - typically one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

"I don't think we're going to get a great pickup in the last few days here," said Ron Friedman, retail practice leader at consulting firm Marcum LLP, explaining how the uncertainty related to the "cliff" was weighing on American minds.

Some shoppers agreed.

"That whole fiscal cliff thing is a bit nerve-wracking, and we're trying to save a bit of money for some (home construction) projects next year," Emma Carrington, 43, said while shopping at the Westfield Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, Illinois.

The mother of three, who was at a Barnes & Noble store on Saturday to buy her husband a Nook e-reader, said she was spending less than last year.

Many others are also being cautious.

"We just try to stay on a budget. We're not going crazy," said Tom Chowinski, a market researcher at Nielsen, who was shopping with his wife for their four adult children on Saturday morning at a Wal-Mart store in Westbury, New York.   Continued...

A woman shops for jeans at a J.C. Penney store in New York November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton