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Black Friday Sets Tone for Promotional Holiday

SAN FRANCISCO -- While "Black Friday" isn't the make-or-break day for stores that it used to be, it will provide retailers a glimpse into their future.

So far, that future looks to be a highly promotional one.

Several companies have already offered bleak predictions for the holidays, cutting their guidance ahead of the busiest shopping season of the year following lackluster sales in September and October. Among the pessimists are Macy's (M - Get Report), J.C. Penney (JCP - Get Report), Kohl's (KSS - Get Report) and AnnTaylor (ANN - Get Report).

The term Black Friday is a throwback to the times when retailers relied on the day after Thanksgiving to get them out of the red. But with economic concerns hitting sales -- and the resulting promotions cutting into the bottom line -- it's going to take a lot of work for retailers to ring up big profits.

Typically, Black Friday is used as a device by retailers to simply get people to shop. Malls open at 5 a.m. and sales are offered for only a short window, maybe until noon or 1 p.m., to create a sense of urgency.

The following week, the sales die off and merchandise returns to full price. Friedman Billings Ramsey analyst Adrienne Tennant says this is when everything becomes a game of chicken, with retailers and shoppers trying to see who flinches first.

Usually, it's the retailer -- and this year should be no different.

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