— By BRIAN SMITH
Neil Kennedy is ready for the holidays.
The owner of Twisted Snifter on North Main Street says the holiday spending spree is on, at least at his business, which has really picked up over last year.
“We’re starting to get more and more word of mouth about what is going on, on the square,” Kennedy said. “People come here and are just blown away by what the Weatherford Square offers. More and more people are wanting to shop local and with restaurants popping up around town, it’s been just awesome.”
With Gray Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday upon us, many stores are gearing up for the annual onslaught of shoppers that will hit them over the next few days. Many of them will brave adverse weather conditions for days on end to make sure they get the item of their choice.
One shopper last year said she waited for a week and postponed Thanksgiving so she and her family could be the first in line for televisions. Many stores are expanding Black Friday and are opening Thanksgiving evening.
For shoppers, whether they hit the stores opening Thursday evening or early Friday morning, they want to see one thing – sales and discounts.
Despite signs that the economy is improving, big store chains like Wal-Mart and Kohl’s don’t expect Americans to have much holiday shopping cheer unless they see bold, red signs that offer huge discounts. As a result, shoppers are seeing big sales events earlier and more often than in previous holiday seasons.
Retailers are trying to lure shoppers like Marissa Anwar, who has been doing more bargain hunting compared with last year.
The operations consultant, who lives in Toronto and New York City, said the economy “hasn’t been great” and she’s lost clients. As a result, she cut her shopping budget to $2,800 from last year’s $4,000.
“I was a former ‘spend-aholic,’’’said Anwar, 29. “Now, I want to make sure I have the money before I spend it.”
It’s a problem that retailers know all too well. Since the recession began in late 2007, stores have had to offer financially strapped Americans ever bigger price cuts just to get them into stores. But those discounts eat away at profits.
So far, Wal-Mart, Target and Kohl’s are among more than two dozen major chains that lowered their profit outlooks for either the quarter or the year. A big reason is the expectation that they’ll have to offer huge discounts in order to get shoppers to spend.
There are already signs that retailers are aggressively discounting. Wal-Mart, for instance, on Friday started matching or beating the prices that certain competitors like Best Buy are advertising for some toys and electronics for the day after Thanksgiving — known as Black Friday. Best Buy also plans to match rivals’ prices, even after customers have purchased items. And Target, better known for its whimsical advertising, is touting its prices in holiday TV ads for the first time in at least a decade.
The tempered expectations, earlier discounting and lowered profit outlooks from retailers come even though there are indications that the economy is recovering. The job market is making strides. The housing market is starting to come back. And the stock market keeps hitting new highs. All that would ordinarily lead Americans to spend more.
But so far, those improvements haven’t been enough to shore up consumer confidence. In fact, Americans’ confidence in the economy is at its lowest level since April.
“Stores know that they are well into a fight,” said Ken Perkins, president of the research firm RetailMetrics. “The vast majority of consumers are distressed.”
Retail sales were up 0.4 percent in October, after being flat the previous month, according to the Commerce Department. Americans spent on big ticket item such as cars and furniture, but that may have left them with less room for more discretionary items like clothing this holiday season.
Overall, The National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion during the last two months of the year. That’s higher than last year’s 3.5 percent growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession.
Retailers say economic worries continue to weigh on shoppers heading into the holiday shopping season.
“We continue to see anxiety regarding the economy and the ability to stay within household budgets, particularly among lower and middle-income consumers,” said Kathee Tesija, executive vice president of merchandising for Target, which trimmed its annual profit outlook on Thursday.
In particular, some Americans still are getting used to smaller paychecks because of a 2 percentage point increase in the Social Security payroll tax that started on Jan. 1. That means that take-home pay for a household earning $50,000 a year has been cut by $1,000. That was a concern Wal-Mart noted on Nov. 14 when it lowered its annual profit guidelines for the second time in three months.
“It’s going to be as competitive of a market as we’ve ever seen,” said Charles Holley, Wal-Mart’s chief financial officer, adding that among the issues that the discounter faces are “the economic conditions that the customer is under.”
Stores also say customers don’t want to spend because they’re uncertain about their health care costs next year due to the U.S. health care overhaul.
Additionally, stagnant wages aren’t keeping up with daily living costs. Not to mention, some people are still out of work.
Here are some of the Thanksgiving holiday specials at local and area stores and their holiday operating hours. For all the specials, please see the circulars in Thursday’s paper:
• Bealls — Open Thanksgiving Day 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday. Reopen 6 a.m. Friday to 1 p.m. Android 4.2 Jelly Bean OS Tablet for $49.99 (Thursday only while supplies last). Chance for the first 50 customers Thursday to win a $100 gift card. Each of the first 50 wins at least a $10 gift card. A $10 discount of all fragrance sprays.
• Bed Bath & Beyond — Open 6 a.m. on Friday. Come before noon to receive a coupon for 20 percent off the entire purchase.
• Belk — Open 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Early bird specials include $79.99 Zeki 7-inch Google certified Android tablet, Rampage Walden boots $19.99, Keurig Elite brewers $99.99.
• Best Buy — Open 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. 55-inch 1080p HDTV for $499.99, iPad 2 16GB with Wi-Fi $299.99. Samsung Galaxy S4 for free (with two year activation). Kindle $49.99. Insignia Flex 8 tablet $79.99. 13.3” MacBook Pro $1,099.99.
• Big Lots — Open 7 a.m. Thanksgiving Day. Spend $50 or more and receive a coupon worth $10 off the next purchase. Two piece Manhattan sectional $599.99. Simmons recliners $189. Open 6 a.m. Friday. First 100 customers win scratch and win card for $5 to $100. Polaroid 4.3-inch Touch Media Players $34.88. SmartTab 7-inch Internet Tablet with keyboard, case and stand $74.88.
• Cavenders — Corral Boots $20 off. Wrangler men’s and ladies’ jeans $10 off. Wrangler shirts 20 percent off.
• CVS Pharmacy — Open Thanksgiving Day. Use the 30 percent shopping pass at the top of the circular through Saturday. Buy one, get one free on a number of items including special perfume sets, toys, Merry Brite 100-count light sets. Craig DVD players $18.88.
• Home Depot — Open 5 a.m. Black Friday. Martha Stewart 7.5-foot pre-lit Denison pine Christmas Tree for $69; 22-inch Fraser fir wreath with bow $5; 300-light mini bulb set $5.88; Milwaukee or Makita Lithium-ion combo kits, $99.
• JCPenney — Open 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Pea coats for men and women for $49.99. Arizona jeans for men $14.99. St. Johns Bay leather bomber jackets $99.99.
• Kohls — Open 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Receive $15 Kohls Cash for every $50 spent. Apex 32-inch HDTV $139.99. LG 42-inch HDTV $379.99. $GPX DVD players $19.99. Prelit Christmas trees $64.99 to $79.99.
• Lowe’s — Open 5 a.m. Black Friday. Kobalt 227-piece mechanic’s tool set $99.97. Christmas string lights 100-count for $1.99. Fraser fir wreaths, two for $10.
• Michael’s — Open 4 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and 7 a.m. Friday. Check the coupons for 30 percent (Thursday) and 25 percent (Friday) off your entire purchase. Half off on its entire stock of 6-foot and taller trees.
• Sears — Open 7 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and 6 a.m. Friday. All Kenmore appliances are 30 percent off. A number of specials on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• OfficeMax — Open 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and 5 a.m. Friday. Double power 7-inch tablets $46.99. HP Pavilion TouchSmart laptop for $399.99. Buy one, get one free all OfficeMax-brand ink and toner. Save 30 percent on furniture.
• Rack Room Shoes — Free gift to the first 50 customers making a purchase Friday.
• Ulta — Open 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Save $10 off on Bare Minerals sets. Free five-piece holiday serving set with fragrance purchase of $40 or more.
• Walgreens — Open all day Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. Save 25 percent off the entire purchase on Black Friday. Half off all children’s toys. Inflatable snowman $20. Large ornament sets $20 (Thanksgiving Day only).
• Walmart — Open 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Vizio 60-inch HDTV $688; iPad mini, $299; HP Pavilion Touchsmart laptops $278; Emerson 50-inch HDTV $288; RCA 7-inch dual core tablet $49 (after 8 p.m.) iPhone 5c $45 and get a $75 Walmart gift card (after 8 a.m. Friday.)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.