Despite some economists' forecasts that the recession could be over by the end of summer, industry watchers say merchants are betting that it's going to be 12 to 18 months before consumer spending gets even close to pre-recession levels.
That's significant because no real rebound in the economy is possible without a pick-up in consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of economic growth.
"Anyone who thinks that consumers will return to carefree shopping by September, you have to wonder what they're smoking," said Paco Underhill, an expert on consumer psychology and CEO of retail-focused consulting form Envirosell.
Slashing orders: Merchants have dramatically slashed their orders for new merchandise that they expect to sell in the summer and later this year.
One sign of that, February's volume of retail imports -- such as clothes, shoes and home furnishings -- dropped to the lowest level in seven years, according to the latest Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and forecasting firm Global Insight.