Best Buy, Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom Let Shoppers Bargain

Morning Money Memo:

Let the haggling begin! Armed with their smartphones and other mobile devices, many shoppers are carefully tracking prices and comparing offers, even at some upscale department stores such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's. Increasingly, retailers are quietly giving sales associates leeway to bargain with consumers. Best Buy recently allowed consumers to haggle over the price of consumer electronics by offering to match competitors' prices. The strategy appears to be working, with Best Buy reporting an increase in sales. Other retailers have noticed that the best way to avoid "showrooming," where consumers look in the stores and buy online, is to be flexible about the price. The New York Times reports "the bargaining practices are more commonplace for home and sporting goods or electronics, but even higher-end retailers like Nordstrom have price-matching guidelines, though they usually do not broadcast the terms."

Another reason why times are tough for many retailers is that shoppers are reluctant to spend more money on Christmas gifts this year. "American consumers don't have a whole lot of extra money to throw around," Greg McBride of says. "They don't have the means to do so even if they wanted to." Shopper surveys for Bankrate and others suggest many consumers are pinching pennies. "Almost 40 percent say they actually plan to spend less this year," McBride says. "Only about one in seven Americans actually intends to spend more this year than they did during holiday shopping a year ago." But retail experts say there is often a gap between shopper intentions and spending results.

A new snapshot finds mixed weekend results for retailers. The research firm Retail Metrics says Saturday traffic was "generally dead" at teen retail chains. But Walmart was "very busy." A winter storm in the Midwest and Northeast was a blow for shopping malls. The last weekend before Christmas will be even more important than it usually is.

For stock market investors, it's all about the taper. The chatter in financial markets is whether the Federal Reserve will pull back this week on its extraordinary stimulus program. The Fed policy committee meets tomorrow and Wednesday. The stock market is coming off its biggest weekly losses since August. Some worry stocks are overpriced and that without the huge round of bond buying and quantitative easing, the market will drop

The auction firm Christie's is expected to tell Detroit how much its impressive, taxpayer-bought art collection is worth this week. Emergency manager Kevyn Orr has said the bankrupt city might have to sell off works from the well-regarded Detroit Art Museum to help repay creditors, including retired public workers. A local philanthropist has pledged $5 million to offset expected losses by city pensioners. There is also a private campaign to raise $500 million to keep the artwork from being sold.

Richard Davies Business Correspondent ABC News Radio Twitter: daviesnow

Business Correspondent ABC News Radio Twitter: daviesabc