by Drew Levinson
(CBS News) The pall of the fiscal cliff looms over a holiday shopping season that begins in less than a week. The National Retail Federation has been projecting $586 billion in holiday spending , a four-point one per cent increase over last year. But with America's fiscal future still a question mark, storeowners now are holding their breath.
As in year's past, with elbows sharpened and smartphones in hand, shoppers are getting primed for Black Friday, the most analyzed day of the retail year and the holiday season opener.
The good news for retailers: an early Thanksgiving means the season is longer with 33 shopping days.
But the economy is still sluggish and Washington atmospherics have rattled consumers.
"Retailers are very concerned about the fiscal cliff situation,"said Ellen Davis, vice-president of the National Retail Federation. "In a recent survey, 72 percent of consumers say they were changing their shopping pattern as a result of the uncertainty of the situation."
Also dampening the forecast is superstorm Sandy. By one estimate, nearly 5 million households in its path will have to curb spending this year
To counter, the retailers are going all in, already offering discounts. And like last year, some stores will start opening on Thanksgiving at midnight, with Wal-mart, Target, Sears and Toys 'R Us opening even earlier in a fierce competition to get the very first shoppers.
"Retailers know after many Black Fridays that typically the place where the customer shops first is the place where they spend the most money," said Davis.
The strategy is working. Last year, a quarter of all Black Friday shoppers were in the stores by midnight, and the weekend was a record breaker.