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Kai Ryssdal: Macy's reported quarterly profits today. Lost $35 million. Less than expected, so not so bad. The real test, though, is going to be the holiday shopping season, which doesn't really start until the day after Thanksgiving -- Black Friday. When shoppers break out their combat gear and storm the stores. But big discounts are already everywhere. Retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon are selling popular hardback books for $9. Sears and Kmart have already cut prices. So we asked Ashley Milne-Tyte whether Black Friday even matters any more.
ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: New York office worker Farrah Davis has been known to get up early and hit the stores on Black Friday. This year she says she'll probably stay in bed.
FARRAH DAVIS: For the past two years, anything that I've seen on sale for Black Friday has generally been matched at any other given time during the year.
She says it's not worth braving the crowds. Marshall Cohen is chief retail analyst at the NPD Group. He says last year stores still had so much inventory in December they slashed prices again. Shoppers took note.
MARSHALL COHEN: This year 51 percent of consumers are telling us that they are going to be shopping starting December first or later.
Black Friday may not be as important as it used to be. But it's far from irrelevant.
Roseanne Morrison is fashion director of the Doneger Group. She says for a lot of people Black Friday is a tradition just like Thanksgiving itself.
ROSEANNE MORRISON: You get up early, you get in your car, you drive to the mall. It's really a family event.
For some perhaps. Cognitive anthropologist Bob Deutsch says it's often every man for himself. He says first, there's the thrill of the hunt. And some shoppers go all out to fool the competition.
BOB DEUTSCH: Like feigning disinterest. Or hiding items in the um, dressing rooms.
Once they've paid up, another primal instinct kicks in: a sense of power and the desire to show off their deeply discounted trophy.
I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.