New York — The Christmas shopping season doesn’t kick off for another six weeks, but retailers already are signaling they’re prepared to discount aggressively to entice shoppers still skittish about spending.
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 this year because for many, deadlines for holiday orders were in spring when the economic recovery looked more solid. Since then several indicators and consumers’ collective mood have darkened.
Retailers aren’t expecting a flashback to 2008, when they were stung by shoppers who drastically cut 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 managed to stay profitable amid sluggish sales by stocking fewer items, creating shortages in certain standbys like strands of Christmas lights. This year, erratic spending has made it hard to strike the right balance of how much to stock as the recovery has lost steam.
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.
“The consumer is being very restrained. They’re closely planning their spending and continue to reduce their shopping trips,” said James Russo, vice president of global consumer insights at The Nielsen Co.
Many retailers say they’re ready to tweak orders where they still can or sharpen discounts to adjust to erratic spending.
It’s tricky because many holiday orders are usually made six months to a year in advance.