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Holiday retail sales projected to rise 3%

When did the 2011 holiday shopping season start?

Did it happen when holiday items appeared on store shelves before Halloween?

Did it happen Nov. 1 when stores started their holiday discounts?

Did it happen Saturday when Wal-Mart held its Super Saturday with Black Friday-like deals?

Or did it start last year when you went to the stores on Dec. 26 to take advantage of sales and then shopped year-round?

From my perspective, the date came shortly before Halloween, when a Krispy Kreme building for Christmas villages went on sale at a popular big box retailer.

I knew if I didn't buy that moment, that inventory of miniature doughnut emporiums would be long gone within a week, must less by Christmas. The sign said "hot" and so was the deal.

Mark that purchase as the first of several for my contribution to meet the expected $250 billion nationally in fall holiday sales. It's the second straight season where holiday sales are projected to increase, rising 3 percent over last year, according to the International Council on Shopping Centers.

The council says the 2011 season should be a "moderately healthy performance."

Predictions for Black Friday - the post-Thanksgiving shopping day - are equally impressive.

On that day, 212 million people are expected to go shopping, spending $39 billion, an average of $365.34 per person. That estimate is from Shopper Trak, the largest provider of retail foot traffic information - everything but the number of sore feet.

And, that's only for people shopping in stores. It does not include online sales that day.

Others predict this will be the year of the discount. Style, quality and customer service won't count, some say. According to Citi Investment Research & Analysis, 64 percent of those recently surveyed said they need discounts of between 30 to 50 percent before they'll buy. Last year, the number was 54 percent.

Shopping this season may require a change in habits.

Major retailers are announcing they'll open at midnight when Thanksgiving turns into Black Friday. The retailers include Wal-Mart, Target and Kohl's, which have stores in Rock Hill. Toys R Us and Macy's, just up in the interstate in Pineville, N.C., are also opening at midnight. Other stores may follow their lead.

Predictions suggest online sales will be significantly up this year. Shoppers are encouraged to go online to scout Black Friday deals. Why wake up early if you can shop from your computer?

What is your Black Friday strategy? For all the talk that its importance has diminished, it's still one of - if not the - leading shopping days of the year. And it's not just that Friday; it's really the a four-day span that includes Small Business Saturday, a yet-to-be-named Sunday and Cyber Monday.

Will you be out early in the morning hunting for the best deal on a computer tablet? This is the first year there has been competition among tablets, and there could be some deals out there.

Will you be hit the toy sections for radio-controlled flying sharks and clown fishes? Will you be rockin' with Elmo or searching for ultimate Star Wars light sabers?

Will be shopping for yourself or your kids? Toys R Us is bringing back its iconic jingle this season. Remember "I don't want to grow up. I'm a Toys R Us kid"?

Many of the iconic toys of your childhood are still in the toy aisle, but with different packaging and different names. The Easy Bake Oven is now the Easy Bake Microwave. And you can still make Creepy Crawlers.

Do you have a favorite local haunt where you do your post-Thanksgiving shopping?

Email me with your holiday shopping plans. Is shopping on Black Friday a family tradition? What will be in your shopping cart or bag? What's the best nonmajor retailer to shop at?

Or will you stay at home and replay the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, hitting fast forward to listen to the Nation Ford band?

Send emails to with "Thanksgiving shopping" in the subject line. Responses will be shared in future columns.