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Retailers, Experts Mixed On Holiday Sales Expectations

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RALEIGH — Since Sept. 11, auto dealers have made the best of a bad economic situation by luring cautious consumers into their showrooms with 0-percent or low financing.

Will retailers go to similar lengths to get customers into their stores during the make-or-break holiday shopping season?

Some retailers said bargains are likely, depending on where and when you look.

Hallmark store owner Carolyn Davis has seen good times and bad in her 18 years in the business. Even with grim forecasts for the holidays, she believes her loyal customers will keep coming and that a big sale will not be necessary.

"I know that going into it it's going to be down, but I still probably won't have tremendous sales or tremendous markdowns until it's time, that being the after-Christmas sale," she said.

At North Hills Mall, J.C. Penney has unwrapped a new ad campaign, expecting it to keep traffic steady.

"What might happen is we might have a more aggressive final clearance, but at this point, the trend does not suggest we will have to do that," said store manager Clara Miller.

People who follow the retail industry believe overall holiday sales will not be so joyful. They expect sales to be either slightly up or down compared to a year ago, forcing stores to resort to discounts.

A leading retail analyst who tracks trends in the Southeast predicts people will find the best deals in consumer electronics, furniture and maybe jewelry.

"It's going be a good time for shoppers to get out there because deals are going to abound," said analyst Ken Gassman.

However, Gassman said that those deals may not come in the form of lower prices. He said that odds are, shoppers will see 0-percent financing, and retailers will stretch out payment periods.

Jim Gray, an associate dean at Duke's Fuqua School Of Business, believes that stores in every part of the retail sector will have to peel back prices early in the holiday shopping season.

"The retailers really have no choice. Consumers are demanding that the prices go down, or they'll just stay home and won't buy," he said.

For retailers, the shopping season will be a winter wonderland, as they wonder how willing customers will be to spend this holiday season.

"Never say never. We may have some markdowns that we wouldn't normally have," said Davis, who will not rule out cutting prices early on.


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