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Retailers See Silent Nights

For instance, Davidowitz says the so-called "door-busters" -- drastically reduced items designed to bring customers into the stores to buy other items -- didn't help Wal-Mart (WMT).

"Wal-Mart had great door-busters," he said, "and that's what the customers bought. They said, 'thank you, and by the way, when you have another 40% off, call me.' It's a game of chicken."

Rothbort says he doesn't expect a lot of big markdowns, especially in consumer electronics. "Maybe in apparel -- that's where people look for sales," he says.

Indeed, Johnson expects electronics sales to be strong, while apparel will be more of a mixed bag.

He says stores such as Kohl's (KSS) and Target (TGT) are seeing strong traffic, and others, like Wal-Mart (WMT) and Gap (GPS), are lagging.

Rothbort notes that high-end stores should fare well, because people who shop in stores such as Nordstrom (JWN) or Saks (SKS) don't go there for sales.

"There's very little markdown at the high end," he said. "If you've got the money, do you really care if a shirt costs $179 or $199? If you don't have the money and the shirt is $29 compared with $19, it's a big difference."

Though markdowns could put major pressure on retailers' margins, Rothbort says inventory will be key to determining the extent of the potential margin woes.

"I'm not sensing that any of these retailers have inventory problems, Rothbort says. "I think retailers are much better at controlling their inventory, either through distribution centers or inventory technology they've installed."

Johnson says nearly all the price cuts will be part of a planned promotional pricing sequence.

"It's not pressing the panic button," he says.

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