Ian Ritter is online content manager at GRS Group

Ian Ritter is online content manager at GRS Group

So far, it is not looking like a good holiday shopping season for retailers.

Of course, who is really to know? It’s hard to even understand when the holiday season starts…or stops. To top that, different expert sources have varying crystal balls on the fate of the holidays.

Black Friday has always been a strong indicator of how the holiday shopping season will play out. But by several accounts, Black Friday isn’t what it used to be. Nowadays, you can do your holiday shopping on Thanksgiving, or even buy Christmas, as well as other holiday presents, in the summer. Plus, with the ever-increasing growth in online shopping, Cyber Monday (which sounds like it’s coined from some 1990s movie about “surfing the Web”) is possibly the new discount-grabbing sales event of the year. Amazon.com, for one, has had a very strong holiday-sales season so far.

Let’s look at this year’s Black Friday, though. Apparently, it wasn’t that big of a bust for some of the most prominent retailers in the country. Walmart reportedly had a strong day, as did Target. A challenged JCPenney even fared well, according to reports.

Despite that, Wall Street is not happy with overall Black Friday sales. Retail stocks recently plummeted on news of major chains’ activity, or lack of. Kohl’s, Macy’s and Nordstrom all saw their shares sink from two-to-three percent after Black Friday sales came in over the weekend. Walmart even saw a dip in its stock.

It remains to be seen what the overall holiday season brings.

The National Retail Federation’s annual consumer poll seems to have a (not surprisingly) positive outlook on how things will play out. The NRF expects a 3.7-percent year-on-year retail-sales jump over the holiday season. Even though shoppers only spent an average of $300 over the four-day weekend, according to the poll, less than the $381 spent last year, the organization says that more people shopped online, making up for that disparity. Also, the methodology of tracking sales numbers has changed, meaning a drop won’t be as significant.

On the other hand, holiday shopping habits might have just changed overall. It looks as though consumers aren’t buying into the Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays that they have been fed for years and now realize that they can find other discounts as the New Year approaches.

And just to confuse you more, one analyst said that holiday sales are average this year.

Honestly, we really won’t know the situation until it fully plays out. Despite the media frenzy during this shopping season, the best indicator of retailers’ health is their fourth-quarter results, when final numbers arrive. This is usually when store-closing news is announced if sales are weak.

After that, we will know the undisputed truth of how these companies fared during their most-prized period of the year.

What are your thoughts on holiday sales? Do you think we’ll see a bump, or is consumer spending lacking?