A Wal-Mart store in in Oakland, Calif.
A Wal-Mart store in in Oakland, Calif. - 
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KAI RYSSDAL: Yes, we know it's only Halloween, but we've got some distressing news for you: As far is the nation's biggest retailer is concerned, the holiday shopping season has arrived.

Wal-Mart is going to be offering some get-'em-while-they're-hot discounts starting this coming Friday. No, you didn't lose track of time. Usually, stores wait until the day after Thanksgiving to kick off their big sales. It's even got a name: Black Friday.

But Wal-Mart's worried about weak sales growth this Christmas, so it's hoping to get shoppers in the mood even earlier. Here's our senior business correspondent Bob Moon:

Bob Moon: Pardon us while we interrupt your Halloween festivities with the sounds of another season:

Music: "Silver bells, silver bells, ring a ling..."

This is a new kind of Christmas rush -- to start spending now. Britt Beemer is a retail expert and head of America's Research Group. He says retailers are getting the idea that it may be now, or never.

Britt Beemer: It's clear this year that there's going to be a very tough season when it comes to consumer spending dollars. So being able to get that consumer in early may be the only time you get a chance to see them. And if they spend all their dollars at your store, they may not be going anywhere else for the rest of the season. It could be that tough this year.

Given higher housing costs, energy bills and other worries, the National Retail Federation's Scott Krugman says this holiday shopping season does carry a special urgency.

Scott Krugman: If a lot of shoppers are going to be shopping based on price this year, then it's in a retailer's best interest to let it be known that they're going to compete heavily on price, sooner rather than later.

Krugman says retailers have stocked up in anticipation of those deep discounts, in hopes of making their money on volume. The gamble is whether shoppers will wait things out to see if prices can go even lower.

Krugman: There is a delicate balance -- if retailers don't do as well as they'd hoped late in the holiday season, and have to resort to unplanned markdowns, that's what really tends to eat into the profit picture.

Analysts say Wal-Mart's early move puts pressure on rivals to match prices. And those businesses that haven't planned for that could find themselves left out in the cold this winter.

In Los Angeles, I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.