MONEY Shopping

Retailers Are Launching Black Friday Sales the Day After Halloween

Customers shop at a Walmart store in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles November 26, 2013. This year, Black Friday starts earlier than ever.
Kevork Djansezian—Reuters Customers shopping at a Walmart store on Black Friday 2013.

Drop the trick-or-treat bag and commence holiday shopping. That's the scenario retailers are hoping for this season, and they're using big sales starting November 1 to make it happen.

There are plenty of Americans who hate the decision made by retailers to roll out Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Thursday. Part of the disgust with stores like Macy’s—and more recently, Kohl’s and Staples—which are opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, is the idea that they’re ruining what was once a blissfully shopping-free holiday.

There is a sizable portion of the population that is also turned off in general by “Christmas creep,” the relentless expansion of the most promotion-heavy, consumerism-crazed of seasons. Kmart has started airing Christmas ads within days of Labor Day weekend for the past two years, and retailers have gotten into the habit of introducing “Black Friday” sales not on the Friday after Thanksgiving, nor on Thanksgiving itself, but often a full week earlier.

For 2014, retailers are pushing Christmas creep to extraordinary new levels, now that Amazon, Walmart, and others have just announced Black Friday-like holiday sales and promotions starting the day after Halloween. Essentially, retailers are asking consumers to shift from orange-and-green spending to green-and-red spending overnight. They want us to go shopping the moment trick-or-treating is done, before there’s even a chance to pack costumes and ghoulish decorations away until next year.

Naturally, many consumers are reluctant to embrace the holiday shopping mentality so early and so abruptly. To get them on board, major retailers are launching sales that they claim are every bit as good as Black Friday’s, only they’re starting them on Saturday, November 1. Amazon, for instance, is calling November 1 “the official start of the holiday shopping season,” with sales on toys, electronics, and other gift items popping up daily beginning on Saturday and picking up the pace as each week passes. Walmart says it is introducing “Rollback” prices on 20,000 items as of November 1, including plenty of popular holiday gifts (Disney “Frozen” toys, Samsung electronics, etc.), and on Monday, November 3, walmart.com is hosting a “cyber savings event” with discounts and free shipping on select items. (Yes, it’s not just Black Friday that’s being imitated and multiplied; stores are doing it with Cyber Monday as well.)

Meanwhile, Target started offering free, no-minimum-purchase shipping for the holiday season one week ago, Office Depot begins “early Black Friday” and “Every Day is Cyber Monday” deals as early as this Sunday, and other players such as QVC promise “better than Black Friday” sales throughout November.

On the one hand, smart shoppers are aware that these early season promotions are likely ploys to get shoppers to pay more than they would have by waiting for even better prices on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or some later day in the season. Considering that retailers overuse the term “Black Friday” to the point of meaninglessness, and that many early season promotions are underwhelming considering the 40%- or 50%-off deals shoppers have come to expect during the holidays, this is surely part of the game.

Yet there’s more to it. Retailers aren’t simply trying to sell merchandise for slightly more money than they’d charge a couple of weeks down the line. More importantly, they’re engaged in a battle to beat the competition and win the business of consumers as early as possible. After all, we’re talking about the shopping dollars of households that, more often than, are suffering from stagnant wages and are operating on limited budgets. Once the holiday gift budget is blown, that’s it for the season whether the household’s holiday shopping is done on November 2 or December 24.

Last week, Bill Martin of the store-traffic research firm ShopperTrak spoke to the Minneapolis StarTribune about why stores are increasingly feeling compelled to open on Thanksgiving, and his insights explain a lot about why retailers are hell-bent on pushing for earlier and earlier shopping in general:

“Retailers say that consumers are clamoring for them to be open on Thanksgiving, but that’s not the case,” he said. “They’re just attempting to get to the wallet before the money is gone. That’s what this holiday creep is all about.”

And that, in a nutshell, is why stores aren’t giving shoppers even a brief moment’s pause between Halloween promotions and Christmas promotions. If retailers took a break and actually allowed consumers time to digest some candy, and perhaps even allowed the weather to start feeling wintery before rolling out winter holiday deals, they run the risk of losing out on tons of sales snagged by competitors that beat them to the punch with early season sales—however absurdly early these sales may seem.

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