Holiday sales get off to slow start

Sat Nov 29, 2008 6:34pm EST
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By Nicole Maestri

COLUMBIA, Maryland (Reuters) - The holiday shopping season got off to a slow start as consumers, squeezed by the economic crisis, bought carefully and said they would wait for better deals closer to Christmas.

Early results from the Black Friday weekend, which kicks off holiday sales one day after U.S. Thanksgiving, bolstered forecasts by some analysts that total holiday sales could contract for the first time since that data started being collected in the early 1990s.

ShopperTrak, which measures customer traffic, said on Saturday that Black Friday sales rose 3 percent to $10.6 billion. That was slower than an 8.3 percent rise in 2007.

"The initial response by many people may be positive," said Telsey Advisory Group analyst Joseph Feldman of the increase.

But, Feldman said, excluding inflation the sales figures are roughly flat year over year. His firm still expects overall holiday sales will be flat to slightly down.

Shoppers interviewed on Saturday said they were disappointed by the deals this weekend and bet stores would offer even steeper discounts in the weeks to come -- a worrisome sign for retailers struggling with weak profits.

"I'm not happy with the prices," said Rose Fernandez, shopping at a Macy's in Jersey City, New Jersey. "If it's worth the money, I would pick it up... If I can wait, I wait and watch. I can wait even till the day after Christmas."

ShopperTrak noted that stores would have a shorter holiday season, with 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, compared with 32 days in 2007.   Continued...

<p>A woman shops at a Walmart store on "Black Friday" in Oakland, California, November 28, 2008. REUTERS/Kimberly White</p>