Regardless, November same-store sales won't be a very accurate indication of what to expect for the holiday, as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Amazon ( AMZN) -- the behemoths of the season -- don't report monthly sales numbers.

In fact, the main concern isn't with November -- or even the fourth quarter, for that matter -- but what happens once the holidays are over and consumers no longer have a reason to shop. Gift-card holiday sales are expected to fall 5%, according to Archstone Consulting, and this decline will most likely hold back sales and profits in January when shoppers typically redeem the cards, Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe wrote in a note.

And then there's one last hurdle to clear: In 2010, retailers will also reach the anniversary of the benefits of cost savings and better inventory management, limiting their potential upside and challenging retailers to grow earnings primarily through sales improvement.

-- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York

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