The world's hugest retailer, Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT), said Thanksgiving falling in the last week of November hurts its year-over-year comparisons for the month. November sales are running at the low end of its forecasted 2% to 4% range. This is hardly a shocker. This time last year, we were heavy into the holiday shopping season.

There's been much buzz about the "six fewer shopping days" this season. Thanksgiving is perilously close to Christmas, in the opinion of retail companies trying to spread holiday cheer. In response, they've stepped up promotions to lure customers into stores. From Target(NYSE: TGT) to Gap(NYSE: GPS) to Saks Fifth Avenue(NYSE: SKS), shoppers will find sales to spur their purchases this holiday season.

It also appears that they've cranked up the red-and-green blitz ahead of schedule this year. Been to a mall or discount store lately? Reindeers bedecked in tinsel cavorted with spooky ghosts before Halloween. It's almost as if the retailers thought "Calendar be damned" when it came to rolling out the "Jingle Bells" musak and fake snow.

The "six fewer days" mantra has been a bit overhyped, but it will likely have at least some effect. Of more concern, though, is the largely lackluster holiday sales predictions that have nothing to do with a time crunch. It's not as if shoppers will spend significantly more if they had those six extra days between holidays. Rising debt levels, a possible war with Iraq, salary worries, and general consumer malaise will dictate holiday shopping spending patterns.

Customers are expected to spend more this year than last on gifts, though -- just not as much as retailers would like. Estimates vary, but holiday shopping is expected to improve over last year by 4% to 5%. That's below the 5.6% reported rise in 2001, according to the National Retail Federation. The average projected household holiday shopping budget is up 6% to $1,656, at least according to the American Express Retail Index. Whether customers will stay within (or go below) budget is another thing entirely.

Interestingly, data shows the new key word is "value." It's now cool to spend less. Finding a bargain has cache, and even many wealthy shoppers are forgoing their chi-chi ways in favor of spending as little as possible. Bad news for Saks; good news for Wal-Mart and Target.

Now, of course, we're not suggesting that all wealthy folks will file into Tar-jay and outfit themselves in Mossimo, when they could be sporting Seven jeans and waving Prada handbags. However, the data is promising for discounters, which will likely have a better holiday showing than their upscale retail cousins. Which brings us back to Wal-Mart and its weak November -- chin up, old boy; December's right around the corner.