Retailers Brace For Holiday Traffic, Cyber Monday

Brick-and-mortar and Web merchants hope for sales boost despite weak economy.
The retail outlook for the start of the holiday shopping season is mixed, as consumer spending reports showed a slowdown not seen since 9/11, but reduced gas prices and pent-up demand offer a glimmer of hope for sales.

The National Retail Federation reported Tuesday that up to 128 million people would shop Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, and online retailers prepared to handle a surge in retail traffic.

The NRF commissioned a survey by BIGresearch and found that 49 million people definitely planned to visit stores over the weekend, while another 79 million said they would wait to see weekend deals before making any decisions. Those figures are down from the 135 million people who planned to shop over the holiday weekend last year.

The e-commerce shopping season begins Monday, dubbed Cyber Monday by retailers, who see an increase in traffic beginning that day. This year, Cyber Monday promotions are expected to rise.

Shoppers could have some extra money since the average price of gas at self-serve pumps has dropped to $1.91, and pent-up demand from consumers who have waited all year for discounts could fuel additional spending. And the NRF has predicted that this Black Friday could be the most heavily promoted in history.

"Shoppers who held off buying a DVD player or winter coat over the last few months will find that prices may literally be too good to pass up," Tracy Mullin, NRF's president and CEO, said in a statement.

On the downside, the U.S. Commerce Department reported Wednesday that durable goods orders decreased by 6.2% last month to $193 billion. Economists had predicted a 3% drop. Personal consumption also declined 1% in October. Both figures have dropped at least three consecutive months.