By  on December 6, 2011

Retailers have sobered up after the promotional bacchanalia that drew record business on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

They’re still anticipating a good Christmas season, with sales forecasts generally from 2 to 6 percent ahead, and beginning this week they expect consumers to focus on gifts and shop less for themselves after last month’s indulgences. But confidence levels among retailers have slipped and it’s not just due to the post-Thanksgiving lull that sets in every year until the final two weeks before Christmas. November sales results, reported Thursday by major retailers, fell short overall. Temperatures haven’t been low enough yet to spark cold-weather categories to the degree retailers planned for. And the last-minute rush for gifts is expected to be really last minute this year, as shoppers anticipate another avalanche of price cutting starting around Saturday, Dec. 17, otherwise known as Super Saturday.

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According to the latest America’s Research Group/UBS Christmas Forecast, 58.8 percent of American consumers plan to wait for last-minute deals, up from 47.2 percent in 2010. The findings are based on 1,000 telephone interviews conducted from Dec. 2 to 4. “While bargains may be the force behind consumers’ moves this year, shoppers don’t seem as willing to break a sweat as in the past,” said Britt Beemer, chief executive officer of ARG. “American consumers are either at home wrapping their gifts or laying in the weeds ready to pounce on last-minute deals. There’s virtually no in-between.”

“Since Cyber Monday, there has been a normalization of what we would expect. The environment continues to be very promotional and seems like it’s only increasing,” said Chris Kolbe, president of Lands’ End, addressing the retail landscape overall. “With November just OK, there’s more pressure in December to perform.…Leading up to Black Friday, people were buying a lot for themselves, like outerwear jackets, new dresses, new boots. But right about now, it starts getting more about gift giving.”

“The hype of what went on post Thanksgiving sucked some momentum out of the stores,” said one department store executive, who requested anonymity. “But when you add what’s being done online to the store business, together, it’s not so bad. I’m not saying there is more uncertainty, but we’ll see what happens.”

One senior executive at a major regional chain said: “Like most folks, we pushed a lot of business into Black Friday with elongated hours and sales. That was very good. Since then it’s been a little bit up and down. You do better on days when you have promotions than on the days when you don’t. We’ve also had some weather issues, but we still feel pretty good about the season. We are pretty optimistic.”

“There is always a bit of a letdown after that Thanksgiving weekend, always a lull,” observed Steve Siegler, president of J. McLaughlin. “It’s like consumers need to take a breather after getting so inundated with promotions.” In the days since Thanksgiving weekend, “Traffic has been a little up and down. It’s hard to predict. Business seemed to be OK in the first part of last week, died in the middle of the week, and picked up last weekend.”

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