Walmart is the latest retail giant announcing a crazy early start to the Black Friday shopping extravaganza.
The National Retail Federation predicts the average amount shoppers spend on holiday gifts will be nearly $740, two percent less than last year. So more than ever, brick and mortar retailers are trying to outdo each other in a tough consumer market.
The first challenge: six fewer holiday shopping days because Thanksgiving is late. The second: consumers are still short on cash. So retailers are using plenty of tricks to snap consumers out of their Thanksgiving food comas.
"Some that they've done before, but this year it's on steroids," says Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL/Strategic Retail.
Stores like Lowe's and Macy's are publishing sneak peaks at holiday deals online. WalMart is opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. And many Old Navy stores open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day. Staggering the chaos makes for better crowd control, says Marshal Cohen, a retail analyst with the NPD group.
"Retailers," Cohen says, "are offering up the option to be able to literally plan out where they're going to be on what day, at what time, seeking what product, at what price."
Walmart is posting store maps online directing shoppers to popular items. But, Cohen adds, crowds are good for retailers. Otherwise shoppers assume the good deals must be somewhere else.