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Black Friday Sets Tone for Promotional Holiday

According to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers, customers are planning to start their holiday shopping later this year than in the last two years. They also expect to be more price conscious.

About 27% of those surveyed say they will spend less on gifts this holiday season. Of that, about 60% say they will buy less expensive gifts, with households with an income of between $25,000 and $35,000 being the most frugal.

Retailers are sensing this reluctance to spend. Even before Black Friday, many stores began slashing prices on merchandise, which now makes it difficult for them to reverse course during the holidays.

For instance, chains such as Aeropostale (ARO), Barnes & Noble (BKS), and Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, both divisions of Limited Brands (LTD), held "friends and family" sales events to entice the first stream of customers into their stores before the holidays.

"It's good timing -- you get the traffic bump," Tennant says. "It's a nice little shot in the arm as you go into Black Friday."

Tack onto that Wal-Mart's (WMT) aggressive pricing, and it would seem promotions are the only way to go. The discount chain behemoth started its holiday shopping season back in October, cutting prices 20% more than last year on 15,000 items.

Wal-Mart is also getting a head-start on Black Friday by offering online specials on Thanksgiving Day. On Black Friday itself, it will offer in-store specials on select items like digital cameras and toys from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m.

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