Forget Black Friday. Or Black Thursday. Several retailers are already touting pre-Thanksgiving deals this week.
Crunched by a shortened holiday calendar that leaves just four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, stores are pushing holiday deals earlier than ever. Amazon, Wal-Mart, and appliance and electronics retailer h.h. gregg have pre-Black Friday sales going on now. Target, Disney stores, Kmart and Sears are among retailers advertising deals that start this weekend.
Sears Holdings, which owns Kmart, says it's offering the earlier deals for customers' convenience.
"Sears Holdings made the decision to offer early deals and door-busters based in part on feedback from our Shop Your Way members, who sought more flexible holiday shopping times and eagerness to shop door-buster deals," Imran Jooma, an executive vice president with the company, said in an e-mail to USA TODAY.
In a world of constant discounting, retailers are stuck in a game of tit for tat trying to stay ahead of each other, says Ronald Goodstein, associate professor of marketing at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. He's doubtful retailers are going to generate more sales by offering earlier deals.
"All the Christmas season is going to be in the first week, and the rest of it is just going to drop off," he says. "It's a bunch of hype just to get people to take their actions sooner. I think the net effect is retail this year is going to be disappointing."
The holiday season is the biggest time of year for retailers. For some it can account for 20%-40% of annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation.
The federation projects that retailers will have a little more than $602 billion in holiday sales, a marginal increase over last year. Wal-Mart, the USA's largest retailer, says it expects fourth-quarter sales to be flat amid an increasingly competitive retail environment and economic uncertainty.
But retailers are still trying to get shoppers in the door over the next month and a half. Walmart is already offering online-only specials, including savings on several brands of tablets and $200 off an RCA 42 inch HDTV. At h.h. gregg, shoppers can save 35% on appliances and 11% on the whole store right now.
Even retailers that aren't offering sales this week are opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day instead of waiting until the customary Black Friday. Kmart isn't even waiting until dinner. It will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart and Best Buy open their stores at 6 p.m., while Target, Sears, Macy's, Kohl's and JC Penney will open at 8 p.m.
A Nielsen survey out Monday found declining interest in shopping in stores on Black Friday: only 13% of consumers this year vs. 20% four years ago.
Pushing customers to shop earlier may not necessarily lead to more sales. While the retail federation projects holiday spending to be up overall, it says individuals will actually spend 2% less than last year because of concern over economic stability and their own finances.
"The idea that if we do it earlier, consumers are going to shop more and more deeply - that's fiction," Goodstein says. "People have a set budget they can afford in this economy. All (retailers) are really doing is substituting an earlier shopping spree (for) a later shopping spree."
Contributing: Mike Snider