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Retailers counting on Black Friday

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PINELLAS COUNTY - Let the celebrations - and shopping - begin.

Traditionally, the winter holiday season begins with Thanksgiving - the fourth Thursday of November - when families and friends get together to eat, watch football and give thanks for the good things in life.

Family gatherings also are a good day to make known any wish lists, as the day after Thanksgiving is historically known as the biggest shopping day of the holiday season.

The Friday after Thanksgiving also is called Black Friday, which comes from the accounting practice of using red ink for losses and black ink for profits.

"Black Friday is the day when retailers traditionally get back in the black after operating in the red for the previous months," according to en.wikipeida.org.

Some people protest the after Thanksgiving shopping day and have declared it to be Buy Nothing Day. Buy Nothing Day is celebrated in the United States and Canada.

U.S. retailers are counting on more Americans celebrating Black Friday than Buy Nothing Day, and many are making tempting offers and gearing up for a big sales day.

The National Retail Federation is predicting that sales will be strong during the winter holiday shopping season and is forecasting a 4.5 percent growth in retail sales, bringing holiday spending to $219.9 billion.

In 2003, retailers saw holiday sales growth of 5.1 percent. This year's growth predictions are lower as the National Retail Federation believes that economic factors, such as higher energy costs, rising interest rates and other consumer economic concerns, will affect holiday sales

"Although consumer spending has been inconsistent in recent months, we expect the holiday season to bring more stability to the industry," said National Retail Federation chief economist Rosalind Wells. "Home-related merchandise and consumer electronics should do well this holiday season and trendy fashions should help spark clothing sales."

"Retailers know they will have their work cut out for them this holiday season, but they are up to the challenge," said National Retail Federation president and CEO Tracy Mullin. "Despite economic and geopolitical concerns, consumers continue to set aside money for what is most important to them."

Gift cards

According to a recent study by the National Retail Federation, gift cards are gaining in popularity and are no longer considered the "lazy man's gift."

The study, conducted by BIGresearch, shows that people will spend $80.45 on gift cards this year, or 11.5 percent of their holiday budget. This year's study showed that 50.2 percent would like to receive a gift card. Last year, 41.3 percent said a gift card would be welcome.

Most popular gifts

According to the National Retail Federation's 2004 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, also conducted by BIGresearch, 60.1 percent of shoppers plan to buy books, CDs, DVDs, videos and video games. Another 59.5 percent will purchase clothing and clothing accessories, 51. 8 percent will buy gift cards, and 43.3 percent will shop for toys.

Shopping early

The Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey also showed that as of Nov. 12, the average person had done about 24.4 percent of their holiday shopping. But most, 68 percent, had only completed about 10 percent of their shopping list. One in 20 shoppers have completed more than 75 percent of their shopping, according to the survey.

"Consumers had the best of intentions to get a head start on shopping this year, but the holiday season has snuck up on shoppers once again," said Phil Rist, vice president of strategy at BIGresearch. "The weekend after Thanksgiving will be extremely important for retailers this year, so shoppers will be greeted with great sales and discounts when the doors open on Black Friday."

Payment trends

The National Retail Federation's study also showed that less people, 29.9 percent versus 30.1 percent last year, planned to use credit cards this year. More people, 34.7 percent over 30.7 percent in 2003, plan to use a debit or check card for the 2004 holiday season. People also are planning to use less cash and checks than in the past.

"Consumers have been budgeting and planning ahead for the holiday season, so it's no surprise that credit will take a backseat to debit cards this year," said Mullin. "With debit cards, consumers can keep a handle on the money they have to spend without worrying about carrying cash."

Shop wisely

The Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection offers some holiday shopping tips:

- Save receipts

- Check refund and return policies

- Read the fine print

- Check delivery dates

- Review warranties

- Compare prices

Online shopping

- Shop from known Web sites

- Protect privacy

- Order only on a secure server

- Guard online passwords

- Pay the safest way

- Check shipping and handling charges

- Order early to allow time for shipment and delivery

- Track purchases
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