For certain U.S. merchants, this Christmas is an especially crucial crossroad.

While all retailers hope they have the right items at the right prices, a few, like clothing chain Gap Inc. and jeweler Zale Corp., are trying to revive fading brands after several seasons in which merchandise missteps turned off consumers.

Others, like electronics chain Best Buy Co. and “cheap chic” discounter Target Corp., are trying to adapt their big-box business models to deal with the rise in online retailing.

All are warily eyeing the 800-pound gorilla in the room,

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