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Holiday shoppers could be winners in shutdown deal

Shoppers wait outside the Target store in Lisbon, Conn., before the store opens for Black Friday in this 2011 file photo. The end of the government shutdown could mean more deals for consumers.
Shoppers wait outside the Target store in Lisbon, Conn., before the store opens for Black Friday in this 2011 file photo. The end of the government shutdown could mean more deals for consumers.Sean D. Elliot / AP

A congressional deal to end the shutdown may be an early Christmas gift for shoppers — and coal for retailers.

By staving off a possible Treasury default until after the New Year, the government also extended uncertainty, according to analysts. Forty percent of consumers curbed their spending during the shutdown, a figure that doesn't bode well for holiday spending.

"Most people realize they just put a Band-Aid on it," said Jeff Green, an independent retail analyst based in Phoenix. "Consumer confidence is still going to lag. People will be concerned about their jobs and the economy in general."

That has, in turn, pushed retailers to be more aggressive.

"You see more and more companies trying to get customers in before Thanksgiving, when they still have money in their pockets," said Jim Bieri, principal at Stokas Bieri Real Estate in Detroit.

People can expect to see several trends that could benefit them — whether they are cutting back or spending fairly freely:

Extended sales. Black Friday sales are a little easier to plan for, as more retailers push doorbusters earlier and put them online. Macy's announced this week that it was for the first time opening stores on Thanksgiving. "

You're seeing retailers push the shopping hours to create more days, in a sense," said Dave Cheatham, managing principal of Velocity Retail Group in Phoenix. Last year, retailers including Sears and Best Buy offered Black Friday deals online up to a week earlier to select customers.

Competition online. Whether you're planning to buy online or in a store, pay attention to online sales.

"The Internet is just going to be in a free fall," Cheatham said. "Free shipping, price matching — whatever it takes to keep that consumer." More are likely to match deals on and other Web rivals, too, he said. Staples announced earlier this month that it would do so, and Toys R Us changed its policy in August to match such competitors.

Post-Black Friday deals. Procrastinating could pay off this year. Early sales aim to get shoppers to buy gifts well before Black Friday; if they are unsuccessful, sales are likely to be even better in the last weeks before Christmas.

"The influence of Black Friday has been going down over time," Green said. "It's going to be a scramble at the end."

Granted, stores were already prepared for a tough year.

"Consumers at this point have already indicated they are going to spend a little less on holiday gifts," said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.

Most stores have planned accordingly, with lean inventories and pricing that helps them maintain profit margins, according to Bieri. The result may be that even wide-ranging steep discounts won't materialize even if sales are slow.

"You have to be a wiser consumer," Bieri said.

In particular, shoppers may need to be more thorough in their search for discounts. Expect to see more sales targeted to one group — be it members of the loyalty club or users of the store app. Stores are also more likely to push profitable items in sale ads and promotions rather than slow movers that have been heavily discounted, Bieri said.

"Walk behind the feature table and see what else is there," he said.

By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @kelligrant