Glum retailers, fearing Santa Claus will pass them by, slashed prices to post-Christmas clearance levels Friday, hoping to entice reluctant customers and prevent the Christmas spirit from evaporating.

Sears Roebuck & Co., the nation's largest retailer, and Toys "R" Us and Child World, the two largest toy-store chains, announced massive discounting programs, reducing prices as much as 75 percent to get the Christmas shopping season out of the doldrums.Retailers normally chalk up 20 percent of their annual sales during the Christmas season, but sales are lagging badly this year.

After reviewing sales for the Thanksgiving weekend - traditionally the year's busiest shopping period - Sears executives decided drastic steps were needed to get shoppers into the stores.

"Sears believes the retail environment during this holiday season is the most competitive ever," said Sears spokesman Perry Chlan.

Toys "R" Us, the world's largest toy retailer, announced Friday an inventory "clearance" offering reductions of up to 75 percent on selected items.

"It has been a bit slower than usual," said Angela Bourdon, a spokeswoman for the retailer, based in Paramus, N.J. It operates 451 stores nationwide and accounts for 36 percent of all toy sales.

So, she said, the chain decided on a series of big markdowns to get customers into stores.

The sale applies to "older items" such as the "Double Dare" board game, hand-held electronic games, some Fisher Price items and some Nintendo software, Bourdon said.

Examples of new prices are a talking baseball, reduced to $19.98 from $99.99; some hand-held electronic games marked down to $12.98 from $17.99, and some Nintendo software reduced to $19.98 from $40.98.