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Holiday shopping season kicks off

From Mary Snow

Wolf Blitzer Reports
Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated

NEW YORK (CNN) -- They lined up in Georgia, braved the cold in Connecticut, and tried to stay awake in Chicago. From coast to coast shoppers rushed to the stores -- and they were enthusiastic in Seattle.

"It's five in the morning. We ran all the way across the mall from JC Penny's all the way to Sears and we're not tired. It's exciting!" said one early bird shopper.

With some stores opening as early as 5 a.m., consumers sacrificed sleep for savings.

"I think it's just something about being the first one and walking away with something that nobody else has," said an Indianapolis shopper.

At one Wal-Mart outside Atlanta, an early bird special on TV's and DVD's drew crowds. But that wasn't all.

"You get the best deals on toys and I've got a list from my kids of what to pick up every year," a Wal-Mart shopper told us.

This year, discounters are not expected to do as well as in the past. Industry watchers say that's because discount shoppers are feeling the pinch of higher oil and gas prices.

"These very same consumers are the ones mainly impacted by the higher price of heating their homes, so they may not have as much disposable income this year as last year and that certainly will be a challenge for discounters," says Scott Krugman of the National Retail Federation.

Analysts say luxury retailers could be the winners this season. Overall, analysts say sales are expected to improve from 2003 because fewer people are out of work.

Keith Stock, of MasterCard Advisers, says, "As people go back to work, as the jobs numbers increase, that restores confidence in individuals, who become a little more bullish in terms of what they want to buy as gifts this holiday season."

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