Still, that would only make it the worst year since 2002--an estimate that's considerably less grim than other predictions. TNS Retail Forward, for example, has estimated that this holiday period will be the worst in 17 years.
The NRF cites all the usual suspects in the downturn: A damaged housing market, rising unemployment, and the high cost of food and fuel, as well as consumer uncertainty. "Current financial pressures and a lack of confidence in the economy will force shoppers to be very conservative with their holiday spending," the NRF says in its forecast. "We expect consumers to be frugal this season and less willing to splurge on discretionary items."
The 55-day holiday period is critical, and for many stores can account for anywhere between 25 and 40% of annual sales, the NRF says. (In 2007, holiday sales represented 19.1% of total retail industry sales.)
And perceived value will likely be more of a factor this year. Typically, price--the perception of getting a good deal or something on sale--influences one out of two purchases, the NRF says.
Where consumers perceive those values is in flux. A new analysis from YouGovPolimetrix's BrandIndex shows that both Macy's and The Limited are especially vulnerable, with consumers believing they offer the least value of all major retailers.
BrandIndex tracks what consumers think about more than 1,000 brands, polling 5,000 consumers on a daily basis. And among major retailers, both Macy's and the Limited were seen as proving the least value of all the major retailers, considerably below such competitors as Wal-Mart, JCPenney, Sears and Target.
"Those two brands have been hovering around the zero score mark since Aug. 15, far below the scores of other major retailers," says a spokesperson for BrandIndex. (A "zero" score means there is as much negative perception as positive perception about a given brand.)
In the loyalty category, Sears and JCPenney are the biggest losers, with Sears falling 28.5% from a 34.4 score in mid-August, to 24.3 last week, and JCPenney sliding 25% from 40.3 to 30.3.