It's not as bad as it was but retail's rebound in the last year is sluggish.
"As long as unemployment is in the nine-plus percent range and you have a significant part of the population being underemployed, there's just less money," says Eric Beder of Brean Murray, Carret & Co.
The big chains are trying new approaches to spark sales, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod. Toys-R-Us will add three percent to whatever shoppers put away in an account for Christmas. Target credit card holders get five percent discounts. Office Depot will price some school supplies for less than a dollar. Staples will go as low as a penny on some items.
"The consumer expects to see 30 percent off or buy-one-get-one-free and that's not enough anymore to drive traffic. So it's to the next level," says Beder.
Sam's Club defines the next level as helping to arrange loans from $5,000 to $25,000 for members who own small businesses. They get an interest rate a quarter point lower than prevailing rates and a $100 discount on the application fee for the loans which are backed by the Small Business Administration.
Sam's Club started testing the program in May. Since then they had a 44 percent approval rate for their members who run small businesses who then have more money to spend on their small businesses right here at Sam's Club.
"You have to be on the cutting edge of everything today," says Sam's Club general manager Bryan Mohammed. "You have to listen to what your members say and you have to be able to provide the service in order to be able to keep them seriously shopping with you."
Most analysts don't expect any significant growth in retail until 2011. Until then chains like Sam's Club will try to innovate their way back by thinking outside the big box.