NEW YORK – Retailers are so desperate this holiday season that they’re willing to lose money to get you to spend yours.

Take online jeweler Stauer. It’s offering a $249 amethyst necklace for free — provided customers pay the $24.95 it costs to ship it. Stauer will lose money on the deal, but it hopes to reel in new customers who will buy other jewelry.

“In this economy, you have to be outrageous in your offers,” said Michael Bisceglia, the president of Stauer. “You have to shake up the world a bit.”

Not every retailer will go as far as giving away merchandise during the holidays, but many will offer profit-busting incentives. It’s a critical time of year for merchants, who can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue in November and December. They’re so worried that Americans are spooked by the weak economy that they’re willing to sacrifice profit for sales.

Nordstrom, for instance, is one of the first retailers to offer free shipping on most orders, no matter how small, even though it could wind up paying $3 to ship a $7 pair of socks. Furniture chain Raymour & Flanigan is allowing customers to go four years without paying interest — the longest period it has ever offered — even though it will have to help cover a chunk of those charges itself. And Sears is not only offering to match the cheapest prices customers find online, but it is giving them an additional 10 percent off the difference.

“You may be making a $1 profit instead of a $3 profit,” Fiona Dias, chief strategy officer of the members-only shopping service ShopRunner.com, said about retailers. “But you’re not losing a sale.”

Despite the challenging economy, revenue in November and December is expected to be up about 3 percent. The increase — below last year’s 5.2 percent spike — is above the 2.6 percent average gain during the past 10 years.

But Americans are expected to do more online comparison shopping and spend less time in stores. ShopperTrak, a Chicago research firm that tracks how many customers come in at more than 25,000 stores, expects foot traffic to drop 2.2 percent during the holiday season compared with a year ago. So far this year, consumers have gone to an average of three stores during a mall trip, down from an average of five stores in 2006.