It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at some of the nation's stores, as retailers struggle to find ways to make shoppers forget about their battered 401(k) plans.
Neiman Marcus' trees have been sparkling since mid-September, and Wal-Mart began opening its Christmas shops last week. But that hardly means many are in a holiday spirit: It's all part of an effort to extend a holiday shopping season that some analysts say could have the slowest sales growth since the 1991 recession.
Consumer confidence -- a measure of people's attitudes about the current and future state of the economy and their own financial situations -- had its biggest single-month drop in September since RBC Capital Markets began calculating its index in 2002. And this season, which brings stores most if not all of their annual profits, is likely to be a make-or-break one for many small retailers and those that were struggling before the economy's dramatic slide.