"It's been a dreadful season so far," said Ed Weller, one of the country's top retail industry analysts. He is worried about the continuing steep decline in sales.
Major retailers, such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Saks, reported comparable store sales drop 20 and 16 percent in October. Macy's was down 6 percent, Target down 5 percent. Some high-end retailers are hit even harder.
"Nordstrom reported this morning another 10 percent plus comp stores decline. Neiman Marcus reported -- you're going to love this -- a 26 percent comp store sales decline. So everybody is pulling in," said Weller.
Consumers no longer shop 'til they drop.
Asked if she will be planning on spending more or less this holiday season, consumer Miriam Nabiyar said, "Less because I don't really have that much money."
That has small, independently owned stores on edge, such as those lining Park Street in Alameda.
Helen Dean owns The Toy Safari, and she sees customers reluctant to spend money.
"Toys this year -- there have been a lot of toy recalls, and a lot of people are leery to begin with about inexpensive toys, and now they don't have the money to buy the expensive toys," said Dean.
"We're not going to take this lying down," said Robb Ratto, the executive director of the Park Street Merchants Association, who plans to boost promotion.
Despite sagging sales, a Silicon Valley start-up will launch a new Web site on Monday called Istorez.com. Its goal is to help shoppers find bargains faster.
"We do think that the concept of fun shopping -- browse around, look around -- isn't going to happen that much in this economy. People are a lot more purposeful and they require a lot more of value combination and quality," said Anand Jagannathan, Istorez.com president and CEO.
Who is doing well? The answer, Sam's Club and Wal-Mart. Both saw higher sales last month.