KAI RYSSDAL: Shoppers, on your marks. There are still three weeks to go before the traditional beginning of the holiday shopping season. But store watchers are already nervous, since retail numbers are down almost across the board. That could be good news for shoppers, though, as stores start lowering prices as early as this weekend.
Alisa Roth has more from New York.
ALISA ROTH: More than half of American retailers say they sold less in October than expected. And some, like Wal-Mart, are already predicting disappointing numbers for this month, too. But before you Grinches get excited about a crummy holiday shopping season, you might want to hear what analyst Edward Weller has to say.
EDWARD WELLER: There has never been a decline in sales for Christmas, I guess since the Second World War. Christmas sales should be reasonably good. We expect that Christmas sales will be a little bit — 5 percent or more — better than a year ago.
He says Wal-Mart has its own unique problems: trouble with a new clothing line and an ambitious store renovation project.
As for the others, he's guessing that chilly fall weather had consumers shopping in September instead of October.
Retail analyst Marshall Cohen says stores are scaring shoppers away by forcing them to think about the holidays earlier every year. Cobwebs haven't formed on the Halloween costumes but stores are already decking the halls for Christmas.
He says that kind of forward-thinking should work in shoppers' favor:
MARSHALL COHEN: It's just a matter of who is going to blink first. Will the consumer blink first and rush in and pay full price or will the retailer blink first, push the panic button and put the promotions on? You will see this weekend, the retailer is already beginning to panic.
That doesn't mean shoppers will take the bait. Last year, most of the season's sales were rung up in the last week before Christmas. And Cohen says he expects more of the same this year.
In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.