Data from ShopperTrak shows that deal-seeking consumers are keeping a tighter grip on their wallets, showing that outlet store foot traffic has outperformed regular store traffic.
For Ontario Mills Mall officials, that means another hectic midnight opening.
"We've always done well, even in the economy," said said Ronata Cameron, spokeswoman for the outlet center. "It's always been heavy traffic, and we'll be packed again."
The ShopperTrak's data shows outlet stores have averaged a gain in traffic of 2.5 percent compared to the same weeks in 2009.
On a weekly basis in 2010, regular stores have averaged a decline in traffic of 2.8 percent compared to the same weeks in 2009, ShopperTrak found.
Overall, ShopperTrak expects seasonal retail sales to increase by 3.2 percent.
"I think this will definitely be better than 2009," said Terri Relf, senior marketing manager of Inland Center Mall in San Bernardino. "I think we will see a steady, but still a little cautious, consumer."
An Associated Press Poll suggests that consumers also remain gun-shy about embarking on a big holiday spending spree.
The poll found more are disciplined about using their credit cards. Deep into a stubbornly harsh economic downturn,
"People are essentially adapting to their circumstances," said Joseph Sirgy, a marketing professor at Virginia Tech who studies consumer behavior. He said the change appears to be a combination of people revamping their financial behavior and getting mentally used to tough times.
Total spending appears fairly static as well. Just over half plan to spend the same amount on holiday purchases as they did last year, while 9 percent plan to spend more than they did a year ago.
Thirty-seven percent said they plan to spend less, down from the 53 percent who said in 2008 that they'd cut holiday spending.
Despite the economic woes, retailers are still in a rush to get Black Friday shoppers in their centers, prompting many to offer deals earlier and some stores, such as Sears and many Walmarts, to be open on Thanksgiving Day.
"A lot of retailers are trying to get people that are off work and have the time to shop. But its going to be a challenge for retailers in terms of staffing and opening back up on Black Friday," said Larry Martin, general manager of Montclair Plaza.
Retailers, Martin said, will be watching closely to see if the holiday opening is a success.
"You're going to see more and more retailers move toward that Thanksgiving Day opening," he said.
This year, Montclair Plaza has about 13 stores including the Disney Store and New York and Company that will open at midnight tonight.
Many of the major department stores at the plaza such as JCPenney, Sears, and Macy's will open at 4 a.m. while Nordstrom will open at 8 a.m., Martin said.
But retailers know they have to offer incentives to win over the shoppers for the long haul.
"We want to make sure we incentivize our shoppers throughout the holiday season," said Melina Ferraez, director of marketing for Victoria Gardens.
Starting at 7 a.m. on Friday, shoppers at the outdoor mall will get the chance to win gift cards simply by wearing a sticker.
The sticker, with the words "pick me," can be picked up at the customer service office. It gives shoppers the opportunity to be randomly selected to win gift cards by Victoria Gardens employees, Ferraez said.
The sticker promotion will be launched on Friday. It will also be held Saturday and then on selected days of the holiday shopping season, she said.
Another month-long promotion at Victoria Gardens will incorporate the malls' Facebook fan page, Ferraez said.
"Awesomely bad gift," encourages shoppers to post the worst holiday gift they have received on the mall's fan page. Each week, one person will be selected and receive a $100 gift card, she said.
Ontario Mills mall has extended its Black Friday shopping frenzy into the weekend with special deals offered on Saturday and Sunday.
"Our retailers were telling us they were still getting a lot of traffic through the weekend," Cameron said about past Black Fridays. "We wanted to make sure our retailers are out there drawing in more customers."
Mills shoppers can also tap into their Facebook and Twitter accounts to get up-to-the-minute deals, Cameron said.
Montclair Plaza will offer its own promotion on Friday, "Random acts of kindness," where mall employees will give out gift cards to shoppers, Martin said.
Also, shoppers who spend $75 before noon can receive a $10 gift certificate, Martin said.
Consumers at the Shoppes at Chino Hills will vie to be one of the first 200 people to get gift bags, said Glenn Miller, the center's director of marketing.
Miller said people typically start lining up after midnight for a chance at the bags which are handed out at 8 a.m.
Associated Press contributed to this story.
Conservative spending ways
The AP poll offered several clues that people are curbing credit card use this holiday:
• About seven in 10 said they have paid off last month's credit card bill or will when it arrives, up from roughly six in 10 last year.
• Thirteen percent said they buy things with credit cards even when they lack money to pay for it at that time, down from 21 percent a year ago.