What to Expect From Black Friday and the Upcoming Holiday Shopping Season

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Gazing into Santa’s crystal ball, the retail experts point to the strong likelihood of weak sales during the rapidly approaching holiday shopping season. And with one aspect of the season, there’s no guesswork necessary: It’s all but guaranteed that shoppers will have their pick of more and more Black Friday sales—more Cyber Monday promotions as well.

The consensus seems to be that retail sales will be tepid for the upcoming winter holidays—no shocker given the sorry financial state of the American middle class. The economists at Deloitte predict a 2.5% to 3% increase over last year’s holiday sales, well below 2010’s 5.9% holiday sales growth over the prior year. The research firm ShopperTrak, cited by Daily Finance and the Wall Street Journal among others, also foresees a modest holiday period for retailers, with sales rising perhaps 3% over 2010’s season.

What’s particularly interesting is that sales revenues are expected to increase incrementally at the same time that foot traffic—the number of actual people hitting the stores—will decrease, reportedly by 2.2%. For stores, the trick to getting more money out of fewer shoppers is keeping prices high, rather than resorting to deep discounting of the past, and to attract wealthier customers who have more (or any) disposable money to burn.

(MORE: The Christmas Shopping Season Now Starts … in September?)

Of course, retailers are bound to discount some goods heavily in the coming months—it’s a classic way to boost sales, after all—but what can consumers expect in terms of deals?

The experts at dealnews released their Black Friday predictions, and the crystal ball is showing 60″ HDTVs for under $700 and a 52% price drop on 17″ laptops compared to last season, among other things.

Meanwhile, ready or not, retailers have already begun playing up the holiday sales promotions. Many stores started lining shelves with Christmas items and displays weeks ago.

Whereas Black Friday—the crowd-crazed, doorbuster-filled epic of shopping following Thanksgiving Day—used to be a single day, it’s transforming into an entire preseason for the winter holiday shopping season. Last year, there were Black Friday-type sales promoted before and after actual Black Friday, and consumers can expect to see the phrase “Black Friday” used frequently (and creatively) throughout the upcoming shopping season.

(MORE: Walmart Brings Back Layaway for the Winter Holidays)

Black Friday’s online offspring, Cyber Monday, is expanding as well. Last season, Walmart hosted an entire “Cyber Week” of online deals, rather than a single day. And over this past weekend, Sears announced an early season “Cyber Monday Unleashed” sale, in which the promo code UNLEASHED granted an extra 10% or 15% off online purchases of clothing, jewelry, and other select goods that were already on sale.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.