After a dismal holiday shopping season in 2008, retailers are facing a confusing set of indicators for this year. While the National Retail Federation is expecting a 16 percent increase in store traffic, an AP poll finds that 93 percent of consumers are planning to spend the same or less on gifts. What's in store for America's retail sector on the most important shopping day of the year? (Watch an MSNBC discussion of Black Friday in a down economy)

Shoppers will show up, but they might not spend: The good news for retailers is that a quarter of households plan to hit the stores Friday, says Angela Moore in MarketWatch. But “it’s going to be harder than ever to get them to part with the cash.” As jobs, home values, and stock portfolios have all dropped off a cliff this year, “consumers have become savvy bargain hunters.”
“Black Friday showdown”

Relax — rich people are doing well: Most consumers might be pessimistic and thus less inclined to spend this year, says Miller Taback analyst Dan Greenhaus, quoted in The Wall Street Journal. But “higher income individuals" account for up to half of spending in this country—and because the wealthy own “the vast majority” of stock, the “rebound in the equity market” has “the upper income brackets” in a spending mood.
“As Black Friday looms, will consumers show up?”

Things will never go back to what they were: The rest of us—i.e., "those not employed by Goldman Sachs"—are not "seeing a path to a brighter future," says Tim Duy in Seeking Alpha. Americans are coming to realize that our "standard of living has shifted permanently lower." We should all "be thankful" that the overall economy is improving, if only slightly--but that "falls far short of what is necessary" to give consumers the confidence to spend like they used to.
 “Ahead of Black Friday: Has consumer confidence been restored?”