NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. consumers will be tempted from every corner of the mall this holiday season, being asked to plunk down a pretty penny for the new Apple ( AAPL) iPhone 6 and iPad, wireless headphones from Beats by Dre and even the latest Lebron James sneakers from Nike ( NKE) .
The competition for the dollars inside of physical and digital wallets may make what has been a challenging year for department stores like Kohl's (KSS) , Macy's (M) and J.C. Penney (JCP) that sell simple jeans and sweaters that much tougher.
According to data from the Census Bureau, sales at the nation's department stores have declined in each month of 2014 except for April, when sales were unchanged compared to the prior year. Further, in a new survey by Gallup, it was noted that spending among middle and lower-income consumers, those whose annual household incomes are less than $90,000, was $76 per day in October, little changed from recent months.
Sluggish buying of apparel could be linked to tepid wage growth in the U.S., which is forcing many in charge of household spending decisions to choose: either save up for an iPhone 6 splurge during the holidays or forego the digital device in lieu of an $89 pair of Levi's jeans in the summer.
More recently, Kohl's warned that its third-quarter earnings would come in at the low end of its range of $4.05 to $4.45 a share. Kohl's cited sales weakness in women's apparel, accessories, shoes and men's clothing as factors in the shortfall. At its Oct. 8 investor meeting, J.C. Penney cut its third-quarter same-store sales guidance, blaming a lackluster end to the back to school season.
The year-to-date stock price performances of department stores provide reinforcement of the persistent competitive problems the companies are dealing with, which is weighing on sales and profit margins. Shares of J.C. Penney and Kohl's have declined 19.2% and 2.98% year to date, underperforming the Dow Jones Industrial Average's 4.76% gain and the S&P 500's 8.74% advance. Macy's stock price has increased 5.1% year to date, marginally outperforming the Dow, while underperforming the S&P 500.
But, the likes of Macy's and J.C. Penney aren't planning to go down without a fight.
To get the attention of holiday shoppers, and ultimately their cold hard cash, department stores are banking on a couple key fashion trends as well as improved in-store presentation. Here TheStreet takes a look at the merchandise that is about to appear on department store sales floors following interviews with J.C. Penney and Macy's.