NEW YORK -- The holiday season is upon us. Here's what shoppers can expect if they're heading out to stores at any point during the holiday shopping season:
No fighting over must-have gifts
Yet again, trend experts say there's no single item that's emerging as a must-have for the holiday season.
Sure, in the world of toys, anything "Star Wars" is faring well as well as a slew of robotic pets like robotic toy bears from Mattel's Fisher-Price and an interactive unicorn from Hasbro. But there's no runaway hit.
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In fashion, jeans are making a comeback this holiday season, which should help perk up teen retailers' business, and athletic-inspired clothing like yoga pants remain popular. But overall, there's nothing that's making shoppers run to stores.
"You have a democratic influence. Nobody dictates trends," said William Taubman, chief operating officer at Taubman Centers Inc., which operates more than 20 malls in the U.S.
It'll be cheap to stay warm
Heavy sweaters and winter coats are piling up at department stores and specialty chains heading into the Black Friday weekend.
Unseasonably warm weather and a shift in changing shopping habits toward experiences like spas have limited shoppers' appetite for such clothing. So plenty of stores like Macy's, Nordstrom and Dick's Sporting Goods say they plan to further mark down excess goods.
Tom Clarke, managing director at AlixPartners and co-head of the retail practice, expects retailers will step up discounting this weekend beyond what's planned to take advantage of the crowds in the stores.
That's good news for shoppers, but bad news for stores whose profit margins will be squeezed. In fact, fourth-quarter profits are expected to be up 1.4 percent on average for the 119 retailers Retail Metrics LLC tracks. That's down from the anticipated 3.7 percent growth just a month ago.
But many are left with no choice but to discount.
As Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren recently told analysts; "We're not selling lumber so I can't carry the lumber over to 2016 and sell it at the same price next year. We're selling fashion apparel, so we're going to mark that inventory down."
Toys will be pricey
Prices are climbing for toys as manufacturers pack lots of technology into them. Deborah Weinswig of the Fung Business Intelligence Center says in a recent report that prices of what the company considers the top 20 expected toys was nearly 36 percent higher than last year, with the average price of $64.99.
And there are plenty of toys that cost $100 or more, observed Toys R Us CEO Dave Brandon. He cited Fisher-Price's Smart Bear, which has a suggested price of $99.99, as an example.
Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of TTPM, an online toy review site, says there's a limited selling window for the pricier toys. Parents save the most expensive ones as gifts and buy them in December.
Bryant Feliz, the father of a five-year-old girl, says he likes the diverse assortment of toys in the stores, but he doesn't like the prices.
"At what costs should we be paying for our own kids' enjoyment?" he said.