- The Washington Times - Monday, November 26, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) Lured by big discounts and fears that must-have holiday items will be in short supply, consumers crowded malls and shopping centers over Thanksgiving weekend, snapping up video games, DVDs and anything to do with Harry Potter.
However, the weekend's receipts won't be quite the bonanza some merchants had hoped for.
Early-bird specials and other bargains from big chains like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. attracted consumers who were frugal even before the September 11 terrorist attacks prompted them to further curtail their spending. The come-ons worked, giving the value-priced retailers satisfactory sales.
But other merchants, particularly department stores and specialty stores that have been languishing for months, barely met their modest expectations for the weekend, the start of the holiday buying rush.
"Retailers pushed real hard. Traffic was strong, but sales were less strong," said Jeffrey Feiner, managing director of Lehman Brothers Inc., who estimated sales at the 22 retailers he follows were at best unchanged from last year's Thanksgiving weekend.
"Most stores entered the shopping period with low expectations, and many met those expectations this weekend," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report. "But deep down they were hoping to get better than what they got. There was a lot of window shopping."
Mr. Barnard and others said sales were solid Friday but cited a sharper-than-expected drop-off in sales on Saturday and yesterday.
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill said yesterday he believed the slowed U.S. economy will see a recovery early next year.
"We will see a recovery at the beginning of the next year," said Mr. O'Neill, appearing on ABC's "This Week".
The Treasury secretary again appealed to Congress to rapidly pass an economic stimulus package as it was proposed by President Bush.
Meanwhile, TeleCheck Services Inc., a check-approval service, reported sales paid for by check at stores open at least a year rose 2.4 percent on Friday from last year. Checks account for about a third of retail spending, and are second to cash as the most popular method of payment. The increase was in line with the forecast of a 2 percent gain.
The Thanksgiving weekend isn't necessarily a good indicator of how retailers will perform for the entire season. In the past few years, the weekend accounted for less than 10 percent of sales, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
More importantly, the weekend after Thanksgiving is seen as a barometer of consumers' willingness to spend.
To spur sales, retailers are giving bigger and earlier discounts than last year, letting shoppers haggle over prices, and coming up with some unconventional enticements. For instance, on Saturday, Sears Roebuck and Co. offered 10 percent off on all items, even those already discounted, from 7 a.m. to noon.
"I kind of feel like we're better off this year because the sales are better," said Stacy Kosub, a 27-year-old lawyer from Wichita Falls, Texas, who shopped at the Vista Ridge Mall in Dallas. "Everyone has knocked everything so low because of the anticipated drop-off. I've actually spent more."


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