Shoppers waiting in line at Best Buy in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov, 28, 2008, otherwise known as Black Friday.
Shoppers waiting in line at Best Buy in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov, 28, 2008, otherwise known as Black Friday. - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: It's been a tragic kick-off to an already-troubled holiday shopping season. Here in California, two people dead; shoppers scrambling for cover as shots rang out at a toy store in the Palm Springs area. And a tragic stampede that left one dead and four others injured at a Long Island Wal-Mart. There's a strange irony there in that retailers began this day worried they wouldn't see enough customer interest this season.

Yes, the usual bargain-hunting crowds turned out at stores across the country. But analysts are already reporting the "bag count" is down. Read that: We're not buying as much as last year.

As Ashley Milne-Tyte reports, this year "Black Friday" could take its name from the mood of consumers who feel they can't spend money they don't have.


Ashley Milne-Tyte: The mood outside Bloomingdale's is merry. The store itself is bustling, but not packed, despite evidence of discounts everywhere. Long Island resident John Fletcher just took advantage of a 50-percent-off deal on sweaters. He and his wife Cindy both noticed something about the sales floor.

Cindy Fletcher: It really wasn't crowded at all for Black Friday.

John Fletcher: The item I bought, I walked up to pay and I was the only person paying. No one was buying. There were lots of people in there - and this was the lower level, crowded as could be, nobody buying anything.

Alston Jones is buying. He works for a medical manufacturing company. He's keeping up that time honored Black Friday tradition -- splurging on yourself.

Alston Jones: I bought like a vest, it was like 170-something bucks, and some pullovers, stuff like that.

He used his Bloomingdale's credit card to pay. But he didn't load it up with everything he wanted. He was eyeing a pair of jeans.

Jones: But I tell myself do I really need the jeans? You know, it's 270-something dollars. I could like wait, I have other jeans. So if you don't need it you don't have to stretch yourself.

Jones says times are tight for his family in the Caribbean right now, so he's sending them more money than usual.

Stephen Platt of the Platt Retail Institute says this weekend is unlikely to produce stellar sales. And he says that's bad news for the rest of the holiday shopping season.

Stephen Platt: If you're a retailer sitting there with a lot of inventory what are you going to do? You're either going to lower your prices through more promotions in a desperate attempt to get more traffic and more top line sales. The problem is so is everybody else. And so it just creates a huge profit loss spiral.

He says plenty of retailers will file for bankruptcy in the new year.

In New York, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.