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"It's time to start talking a lot about retail," declares Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal. Indeed, Thanksgiving week is upon us, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach. With the economy front and center, what everyone wants to know is this: how will this season measure up? Here's the first round of predictions.

  • 'Holiday Spending Will Surprise,' predicts Matt Busigin at Macrofuge back at the end of October. "Employment is gaining traction ... personal income is at a record high ... personal consumption expenditures and final sales are also at a record high ... consumer credit is expanding," and "Chinese imports are at record highs." These are five signs of a pretty good holiday spending season, despite what has looked like continued economic distress.
  • Certainly Retailers Are Getting Competitive  "Experts are predicting that consumers will spend slightly more on holiday-related shopping this year, and stores are doing what they can to ensure they get a sizeable piece of those purchases," notes Anika Anand at Business Insider. Toys "R" Us will be opening as early as 10 p.m. Thanksgiving Day instead of midnight on Friday. Sears, too, will be opening Thanksgiving Day--"for the first time in the store's history." Of course there's also Wal-Mart's free shipping, while Anand also digs up another curiosity: Target selling fresh Christmas trees online.
  • That's the Way It Works  "A rough retail environment always means higher discounts," writes 24/7 Wall St.'s Douglas McIntyre. Also, he adds, "retail is an outstanding example of an industry where the rich are getting much richer and the poor are disappearing."
  • But Will Early Sales Hurt Christmas Week Shopping?  "There is no longer any sanctity for Thanksgiving," observes Douglas McIntyre, this time at Daily Finance, "which used to be the last calm day before stores unleashed their holiday deals the next day." He points out that, even though it's not much talked about, "if retail sales are indeed only going to rise 2% to 3% and the weekend of Thanksgiving does drive higher sales than last year because of early discounts, the last week of shopping just before Christmas could be pretty quiet."
  • Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday  It used to be Black Friday was the big day, writes Leena Rao at TechCrunch. "But in the past five years, Cyber Monday, the Monday following Thanksgiving, has become a a serious shopping day for online sales and promotions." A Compete survey suggests the trend will continue this year--but Black Friday will still move more money. Why?
Black Friday shoppers are planning to spend more money than Cyber Monday shoppers, with Black Friday shoppers averaging an expected $353 and Cyber Monday shoppers averaging an expected $233. Compete says the increased spend is likely due to more people shopping for high-end items such as electronics, clothing, toys and games on Black Friday than on Cyber Monday.
  • 'More Shoppers but Spending More Cautiously'  That was the big message of October, notes Mercedes Cardona at Daily Finance--and retailers are keeping it in mind as we head into the holiday season.

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