Late Thanksgiving means shorter holiday shopping season

It is an especially late Thanksgiving this year, the latest, in fact, the holiday ever falls.

That means the holiday shopping season, starting Friday, is the shortest it ever is -- just 26 days.

So many retailers are trying to make up for lost time, by opening for business on Thanksgiving.

They expect to ring up more than $600 billion in sales this season, with as much as 15 percent of it this weekend.

But will opening stores on Thanksgiving pay off?

Some 33 million Americans were expected to shop on Thanksgiving Day alone. That sounds like a lot, but it's actually 2 million fewer than last Thanksgiving Day, even though more stores are open.

Che Davis spent part of the holiday at Best Buy, shopping for a game console. He said he is spending about the same amount as last year.

“(I’m) not trying to go overly too high because things have been funny this season,” he said. “Economy has been funny, so I’m trying to keep it moderate.”

That’s what has retailers nervous. Even with the economy in recovery and the stock market up nearly 23 percent this year, more than 21 million Americans are still underemployed -- they’re in part-time jobs, out of work of have given up looking.

Sales during the holiday shopping season have averaged 3.3 percent growth each year over the last decade.

Craig Johnson, an analyst with Customer Growth Partners, says the sluggish pace in hiring may lead to slower growth.

“We view this year at up about 2.9 percent, which is a very mediocre increase and represents a deceleration over the last two years,” he said.

“So it's not going to be a great season for a lot of retailers. It's going to be a humbug holiday."

That makes life a lot harder for retailers.

“It's actually good for the consumer who has money to spend and good income. But for retailers, it can be very dicey,” said Johnson.

Many consumers are expected to skip the crowds in stores and shop online instead this holiday season. CBS News
A quirk with the calendar this year means there are six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That will skew the figures for that period. To compensate, retailers started their seasonal sales earlier, some as early as October.

The one number that has increased: online shoppers. Consulting firm Accenture predicted nearly half of all Americans shopping on Thanksgiving Day would skip the crowds and browse from the comfort of their homes. That’s a new record.

Retail giants Walmart and Best Buy are warning investors to expect disappointing holiday sales figures. Not only are 85 percent of Americans predicted to avoid shopping on Black Friday, analysts say they will visit fewer stores in general in the weeks before Christmas.