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Ready. Get set. Shop!
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


November 21, 2006

After Thanksgiving comes Black Friday, so described not out of some sense of gloom or despondency but because that's when the ink on retailers' ledgers goes from red to black as shoppers hit the stores prepared to spend an estimated $457 billion between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

And this year the retailers are gracing us with Cyber Monday, the ceremonial start to the online shopping season, according to the National Retail Federation. No need any longer to let earning a living interfere with your holiday shopping experience because, says the NFE, online retailers are targeting "at-work shoppers," a development sure to make the bosses happy. Online holiday season sales were more than $27 billion last year, not a market the retailers are going to ignore.

For all the merriment, both real and manufactured, the holiday season is deadly serious business for retailers. Holiday shopping accounts for almost 20 percent of annual sales. For some specialties, jewelers and bookstores in particular, their sales are double or more in that period. Even when there's no product immediately involved, sales are good. Almost $25 billion will be spent on gift certificates this year, up $6 billion over last season.

Those big numbers are why the holiday season is of such interest to economic analysts and why the government keeps obsessive track of such numbers as live-Christmas-tree sales - $485 million last year - and imports of artificial trees from China - $65 million - and the number of U.S. malls and shopping centers - 48,695.

Some of the more fastidious might be discomfited by this annual exercise in consumption and materialism, but consumer spending is the engine that drives the American economy from which so many benefits flow.

So be careful out there and don't wear the numbers off your credit card

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Ketchikan, Alaska