Retailers hold out on "big" sales

On a weekday morning in Union Square there is a steady flow of shoppers that come out of Macy's.

"We have just barely started to shop. We're hunting. We're on a hunt right now," says Patty and Carl Kustin from Boulder Creek.

However, those waiting for bargains, may be in for a disappointment.

"Last year at this time, we were looking at 70 percent, even 90 percent off on a product. This year as you look around, maybe we see 20-25 percent," says Helen Bulwick, a retail analyst with Bedrock Dissero.

Bulwick says despite that, sales are projected this year to be ahead of last year. Retailers were more cautious this year, cutting down on inventory.

"They've gotten to the items that people want most and there isn't the need to take those price drops," says Bulwick.

And consumers appear to be cautiously optimistic.

"It may not get better as fast as we'd like, but we don't expect it to get significantly worse -- at least not quickly. I don't think people are as scared; and as a result, retailers don't have to give these huge discounts to get people to go shopping," says Michal Strahilevitz from Golden Gate University.

Still, if you're determined to find steep discounts, be prepared to do some extra work. The experts suggest looking for alternative products that you normally wouldn't buy. Go to retailers you normally wouldn't go to and ask smaller retailers if they're willing to bargain. Regardless, the simplest thing may be just to wait.

"The bigger sales are going to come after Christmas. So if you're doing shopping for gifts, you need to shop now, obviously. But if you're looking for things for yourself, my guess is after the holidays the sales are going to be much bigger because people don't have to shop," says Strahilevitz.

With reduced inventories this year, some shoppers are finding those "must have" gifts have already sold out.

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