The holiday season has only sort of started, and some of the losers are already clear. That may sound harsh, but Black Friday (and the months of November and December in general) seem to amplify mistakes being made both by retailers and shoppers.

Most companies that head into Black Friday needing a good season to validate a turnaround have a chance. The retailers that have been stumbling badly for a long time almost never find new life during the busiest shopping time of the year, and people who make bad financial choices almost never change their habits as the holidays approach.

A closed sign on a store.

Some retailers may be hanging this sign permanently after the holiday shopping season. Image source: Getty Images.

Struggling retailers Sears and J.C. Penney

Neither Sears (NASDAQ:SHLDQ) nor J.C. Penney (OTC:JCPN.Q) has the money to make a major turnaround this holiday season. Both also must deal with wary vendors concerned about getting paid by the cash-strapped companies.

Both retailers will make a go of it, offering deals and trying to lure people in. Neither will offer a compelling merchandise mix -- or at least compelling enough to win back lapsed customers.

Second-tier malls

Top-tier malls have continued to be strong even as chains like Penney and Sears have shuttered locations. Those malls have been able to bring in co-working spaces, entertainment options, and food halls.

Lesser malls have not been as fortunate. Empty anchor stores and malls with lots of shuttered stores are not traffic draws. Even during a busy shopping season, consumers are likely to flock to retail centers that are thriving -- not ones that have seen better days.

People who make bad financial choices

The holiday shopping season comes with all sorts of potential financial tripwires. That can lead people who are generally responsible to make bad choices.

Many people associate the holiday season with getting gifts, travel, and spending money on entertainment. They may indulge in those things even if they can't actually afford to. It's never smart to spend money you don't have, but the pressure of the season can make people take on credit card debt that may haunt them throughout the next year.

Stores that aren't omnichannel

The retailers that have been doing well in the digital economy are the ones with a strong omnichannel model. They generally let consumers shop however they want, letting them decide what digital and delivery options they want or don't want. Brick-and-mortar chains, specifically smaller mall retailers, that have not added these capabilities are going to suffer this holiday season.

Black Friday will tell a bigger story

Black Friday and the holiday shopping season serve as a sort of larger referendum on the health of retail and retailers. Sales are expected to be up about 4% from last year, and any negative deviation from that will show that consumers are more concerned about their discretionary spending than forecasters expected.

This year's holiday shopping season may see the final hurrah for a number of retailers. It could also give us a lot more data about some of the chains that may have turned the corner or may still be in a very tough position

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