US retailers slash prices -- and pray
AFP - 2 hours 16 minutes ago
NEW YORK (AFP) - - US shoppers snapped up bargain basement deals on so-called Black Friday as desperate retailers attempted to claw their way out of a deepening slump.
Already by 8:00 am (1300 GMT) New York's 34th Street bustled with tourists and locals toting huge paper bags out of shops offering staggering discounts.
The day after the Thanksgiving holiday kicks off the Christmas shopping season and is traditionally a bonanza for stores, earning the name Black Friday because balance sheets go into the black.
But with the US economy in a nosedive and retailers in particularly bad shape, this year's Black Friday has become a crucial litmus test of consumer confidence.
"Give them what they want -- and hope for the best," was how industry watcher Women's Wear Daily summed up retailers' strategy.
Women's clothing store Ann Taylor promised 20 percent off everything bought before noon, Lane Bryant offered "buy one get one free" and Banana Republic 40 percent off.
Frantic crowds poured through New York's much-loved department store Macy's, where display windows featured puppets in picture-postcard Christmas scenes.
Frieda, a 48-year-old marriage registrar from Holland, emerged astonished at the bargains.
"I bought Levis jeans for my sons. They cost 30 dollars each and in Holland they cost at least 150 dollars," she said.
Katrina Chapman, a British accountant, said her husband had scooped up a Ralf Lauren suit for 200 dollars and Calvin Klein shirts for 20 dollars -- a fraction of the price in Britain.
For the Chapmans, Macy's was just the beginning of a day in New York's department stores.
"We got here at 6:30 am. I think we're going to go and have breakfast and then head off to Bloomingdales," Chapman, 32, said.
But if Macy's was crowded, many other stores along 34th Street were not. Only five people stood waiting for Banana Republic to open.
A huge proportion of people shopping also appeared to be tourists, reflecting what economists say has been a crucial source of support for retailers, especially in New York.
Whether US shoppers will come to the retail economy's rescue is still not clear.
New York student Erika Pu, 20, said she was shopping, but carefully.
"I'm buying Christmas presents. You still have to do that, don't you? But I don't think people are going to be buying the really expensive stuff."
Her friend Carlos Ventura, a 23-year-old chef with a New York catering company, said the economic crisis had already taken a bite out of his income and that he wouldn't buy anything at all.
"Now I'm only cooking two or three days a week, where two months ago it was five, six days a week. I guess companies aren't wanting to spend money on entertaining anymore."
Third quarter results leading up to Black Friday were a bloodbath for many major retailers. And some chains, including electronics goods stalwart Circuit City, have already filed for bankruptcy.
But a senior executive at Best Buy, another electronics chain, put on a brave face.
"I think there's people out and they seem to be having a great time engaging with our employees and I think there's an optimism in the stores today," Best Buy president Brian Dunn told NBC television.
"We are very pleased with the crowd we are seeing this morning and seeing an awful lot of product moving through the registers. It's an exciting day here."
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Shoppers rush in a Best Buy store at 5 a.m. in Los Angeles, California, a day after Thanksgiving. US shoppers snapped up bargain basement deals on so-called Black Friday as desperate retailers attempted to claw their way out of a deepening slump.
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