Hours So Early, Holiday Shoppers Stay Up Late

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The Barbie Puppy Swim School. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Whose child wouldn't like to help puppies learn to swim? The Barbie Puppy Swim School could be one of this year's top-selling toys. Oli Scarff/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Oli Scarff/Getty Images

2010 Top Toys For Girls

  1. Barbie
  2. Dolls
  3. Dora the Explorer
  4. Video Games
  5. Disney Princess
  6. Zhu Zhu Pets
  7. American Girl
  8. Fisher-Price Toys
  9. Disney Hannah Montana
  10. Bratz

2010 Top Toys For Boys

  1. Video games
  2. LEGO
  3. Toy cars
  4. Disney Toy Story
  5. Hot Wheels
  6. Transformers
  7. Xbox 360
  8. Fisher-Price toys
  9. Iron Man
  10. A tie for 10th place: Nintendo Wii and toy trucks

Source: National Retail Federation

The holiday retail season begins in earnest this week and so far, the sales data suggest many Americans are ready to shop again. It's good news for the economy, but it might have you shopping in your PJ's.

Retail sales have been up in four of the past five months, and stores saw an unexpectedly healthy rise in revenues in October. Because of that trend, the National Retail Federation is optimistic about November and December. It predicts holiday sales will rise by 2.3 percent this year.

That's a significant improvement over last year when sales increased less than half of 1 percent. And it's dramatically better than in 2008, when retail sales declined roughly 4 percent.

The Confidence Factor

Economists say the outlook has improved despite high unemployment because the people who do have jobs are feeling more confident.

"Employers are accelerating hiring, incomes are rising, the pace of layoffs is slowing and the value of stock holdings have increased, which adds to household wealth," Bernard Baumohl, an economist with the Economic Outlook Group, wrote in a forecast for retail sales.

With the economy in somewhat better shape, retailers are not resorting to the kind of dramatic price-cutting they tried last Thanksgiving. Surveys suggest that while stores are still featuring lots of "door-buster" promotions, prices across the board aren't being slashed.

Instead of stressing deep discounts, which can take a big bite out of profits, retailers are trying less expensive methods to spur sales.

To Shop Or Sleep?

For example, they are offering longer hours to shop. For the first time in its 124-year history, Sears is going to open its stores on Thanksgiving Day from 7 a.m. to noon.

And on "Black Friday," as it has come to be known, many stores will be open earlier than ever to try to get their books into the black. Macy's, for one, will be open at 4 a.m., an hour earlier than last year. Kohl's is going even further, opening at 3 a.m. on Friday.

Walmart, however, is kicking off its Black Friday promotions three hours earlier than that — at midnight. And to get ahead of Walmart, Toys R Us will open at 10 p.m. on Thursday.

Retailers also are trying to get people to shop around the clock online. Walmart grabbed attention earlier this month by announcing it would offer free holiday shipping — with no minimum purchase — on 60,000 items.

Target, Best Buy and other major chains have responded with various promotions that also offer free shipping for some merchandise.

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