MONEY Shopping

To Get the Best Deals, Skip Black Friday

The early bird gets the worm.
The early bird gets the worm. Abdolhamid Ebrahimi—Getty Images

Sure, there will be some great deals on Black Friday. But overall, the data indicates that the holiday season's best prices are to be found before Black Friday even arrives.

Black Friday, a.k.a. the day after Thanksgiving, has traditionally been embraced as the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. But now that the season has been expanded dramatically by retailers, which began airing holiday ads in September, with Black Friday-type deals appearing as early as November 1 and plenty of stores open on Thanksgiving, the idea that Black Friday is the “start” of anything is silly. In fact, the idea that Black Friday is the season’s most important day for retailers is waning, and there’s a decent argument to be made that deal-seeking consumers should be done with their shopping by the time Black Friday rolls around.

The Wall Street Journal has examined retail pricing data from Adobe Systems, which shows that last year, the season’s biggest price drops took place the weekend before Thanksgiving, and the best overall prices were to be had not on Black Friday but the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. This year, Adobe predicts that the season’s lowest prices will pop up on Thanksgiving itself, with an average discount of 24%. The deal-hunting experts at dealnews also anticipate that Thanksgiving will beat Black Friday and come out overall as the best day for low prices.

This isn’t to say that Black Friday won’t have some phenomenal bargains. Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Macy’s, and the rest of the field will surely roll out their share of doorbusters and huge one-day discounts. You’ll probably be able to scoop up off-brand TVs for a song, and the lucky few with the right combination of timing, endurance, and sharp elbows will assuredly snag other in-demand toys and electronics at deep discounts on Black Friday.

But they’ll have to battle traffic and crowds at the mall to do so. More importantly, based on the data presented above, it should be clear that Black Friday won’t necessarily have the best prices on everything. The pitfall shoppers should really try to avoid is heading to the mall on Black Friday for a few amazing doorbuster deals—and then sticking around and impulsively buying a bunch of other things at prices that are higher than you need to pay.

Combine that with the fact that the majority of sales on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the rest of the weekend are available online at the same prices, and that huge online sales are all but guaranteed for Cyber Monday at the start of the next week, and there’s considerable justification for staying away from the mall the entire time.

It may not be the most appealing idea, but there’s even some justification for getting a good portion of your holiday shopping done right now. The Wall Street Journal has been tracking prices of 10 top holiday gift items at Amazon and other major retailers, and what it found is that competitors are changing prices from day to day, sometimes dramatically so, and that some particularly good deals are appearing sooner than they normally do in the season. “This year retailers are trying to lengthen the season by dropping prices even earlier,” Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst of Adobe Digital Index, explained to the WSJ.

Dealnews agrees. “The truth is that the entire month of November will see blockbuster sales,” a post in late October explained. “So if you see the item you want at a price that suits your budget, by all means don’t wait to purchase that item later.”

Certainly, there’s no reason to feel like you must wait and physically go shopping on Black Friday.

TIME Retail

Toys ‘R’ Us to Open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving

Retailer unveils initiatives to make the shopping experience smoother during the busy holiday season.

Toys “R” Us will open its stores at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year, the same time as last year and a sign the toy retailer is showing some restraint when it comes to the so-called “Black Friday creep.”

“We had incredibly positive feedback with customers who shopped with us on Thanksgiving last year,” Chief Merchandising Officer Richard Barry told Fortune.

The toy retailer, which generated $12.5 billion in sales for the latest fiscal year, and many other big-box retailers have been progressively opening their stores earlier and earlier each year for the critical Black Friday weekend. Many are now open on Thanksgiving itself, angling to get an important slice of consumer spending in a bid to better compete with online rivals that can generate sales at any time of the day. Several years ago, when brick-and-mortar retailers realized they were losing out on precious sales as consumers took to their computers to shop after their Thanksgiving feasts, they began to respond by opening their stores on the actual holiday.

Mayc’s and Kohl’s are among the retailers that have already announced earlier hours for the upcoming holiday season. And for years, Toys “R” Us has been a willing participate in this “Black Friday creep” game. It first inched into Thanksgiving Thursday in 2009 and pushed store opening times earlier in every subsequent year through 2013.

But Toys “R” Us says 5 p.m. is the right time to open its doors.

“We saw that people really enjoyed the early opening, and frankly we saw the sales on Black Friday itself being very strong,” Barry said. “There wasn’t as much pressure on that 10 p.m. or midnight time. It was more spread out and people had a more civilized shopping experience.”

Toys “R” Us on Thursday also unveiled a few other initiatives to make the shopping experience smoother during the busy holiday season. The company is placing employees, known as a “Guru for Play Stuff,” at the front of the store to help assist navigation. New express lanes will help speed up the checkout process for those buying two items or less, while employees will also have the ability to scan items in a jam-packed cart and provide a bar code that can be scanned to get them out the door quickly.

Barry said it was important to serve both customers, those with the overflowing carts and those with just a few items in their arms.

Toys “R” Us must perform well during the holiday season, as it generates roughly 40% of its annual sales during the final quarter of the year, which runs from November through January. The toy retailer battles big-box rivals like Wal-Mart Stores and Target, as well as online retailers like Amazon.com, for a slice of consumer spending in the $22 billion domestic toy business.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

MONEY groceries

Whole Foods Is Losing Its ‘Whole Paycheck’ Reputation

141106_EM_WholeFoods
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Whole Foods is winning over customers based on the pitch that high food standards don't necessarily have to come with high price tags.

In Whole Foods’ fourth-quarter results released on Wednesday, investors found out that total sales increased 9% year over year, while comparable-store sales inched up 3.1%—”in line with its expectations, but marking its worst growth rate in over four years,” the Wall Street Journal noted.

Nonetheless, investors were plenty pleased with the direction the company is going, sending Whole Foods shares up more than 10% early Thursday.

Investments aside, what’s most interesting for everyday shoppers about the results—and about Whole Foods’ plans going forward—is that the supermarket often dubbed “Whole Paycheck” for its high-end and high-priced selection is experiencing success in a broad initiative to lower prices.

Last spring, Whole Foods shares tanked after it began to look increasingly difficult for the company to dominate sales of organic foods, since Walmart and other mass retailers had widely expanded their offerings. Organic foods are incredibly important to Whole Foods, as co-chief executive officer Walter Robb explained via statement yesterday:

“Natural and organic products are increasingly available, yet no one offers the shopping experience we offer. We hold the idea of ‘food’ to a higher standard, banning more than 75 ingredients commonly found in other stores, and we believe our unparalleled quality standards are a large part of why we maintain a broad base of loyal customers and attract new customers aspiring to a natural and organic lifestyle.”

Yet it’s not just Whole Foods’ “higher standards” that have given store sales a boost. In recent weeks, the company launched its first national ad campaign featuring the slogan “Values matter.” That’s values plural because of the standards mentioned above, as well as the old-fashioned value of a dollar. Whole Foods has been trying to rein in prices for at least two years—after all, it’s easier to attract new customers to the “natural and organic lifestyle” when it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to do so. The initiative has hurt gross margins, which fell from 35.7% to 35.4%, but it has helped Whole Foods win over new shoppers and keep loyal customers at a time when it’s easier than ever to find organic foods elsewhere—at increasingly lower prices, no less.

In October, the company introduced a new “Responsibly Grown” system for rating produce at several hundred Whole Foods stores. On Wednesday, co-CEO John Mackey told analysts that he was “encouraged” by what he’s seen in the new system, which rates produce and flowers as Good, Better, or Best according to various sustainability measures. The ratings are supposed to help shoppers evaluate and make an informed decision to buy, for instance, a bag of green apples that’s double the price of a nearly identical one right next to it in the store. Or to help them make the informed decision to do just the opposite and choose the less expensive option.

Mackey said that going forward, Whole Foods will put special emphasis on offering more and more goods at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. “We remain committed to the highest quality standards and to expanding our value offering,” he said, noting there are “opportunities to broaden our selection of products at entry-level price points, increase promotions and narrow price gaps on select known-value items.”

In the future, Whole Foods hopes to expand its Good, Better, Best system to all perishables. The supermarket chain is already testing such a plan at five stores in Austin, Texas, and analysts say the initiative could pay major dividends in terms of changing the company’s upscale, overpriced reputation and broadening its appeal to the masses.

“Price is still a significant barrier in the way people look at Whole Foods, and it will take a while to change the ‘Whole Paycheck’ perception the company has,” said Kate Wendt, senior analyst with Wells Fargo Securities, according to Supermarket News. “But lowering prices in perishables — the category where people shop most frequently at Whole Foods — could help accelerate a change in that perception.”

Read next: Target Is Closing Another 11 Stores

MONEY online shopping

There’s a New Way to Get Free Shipping—Overnight, No Less

Amazon.com packages move along long conveyor belts at an Amazon.com Fulfillment Center.
Three Amazon-owned companies are offering free overnight shipping on purchases—a perk that Amazon Prime members don't get. Ross D. Franklin—AP

Three Amazon-owned sites just introduced free overnight shipping on purchases of $49, but only for customers who live in the right zip codes.

On Wednesday, Quidsi, the Amazon-owned company that operates several e-retail sites, announced that consumers in the greater New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco areas will get free overnight shipping on all orders of $49 or more placed at Diapers.com, Soap.com or Wag.com.

The three sites specialize in baby products, health and beauty merchandise, and pet supplies, respectively, and the unprecedented overnight-shipping service, which requires no specific membership or annual fee, is clearly a play to win over suburban shoppers—moms in particular.

“An important part of our mom-centric mission is to deliver products to mom at the moment she needs them,” Quidsi CEO Maria Renz said in a statement announcing free overnight shipping. “We’re excited to further this commitment to moms by offering the greater convenience of free overnight shipping to our New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles customers. Order today, get it the next day. It’s that simple. Helping moms by making shopping easier and delivery even faster is what we’re all about.”

It’s not necessary to live within the actual bounds of each city to take advantage. Check out this link for a list of the hundreds and hundreds of zip codes where free overnight shipping is now available, so long as your order total is at least $49. From a quick glance, it looks like the offer is extended to virtually all of New Jersey, as well as parts of New York including Long Island and Westchester, Orange, Rockland, Sullivan, and Putnam counties. Likewise, in addition to San Francisco and Los Angeles proper, the free shipping service is available for California residents who live in counties including Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, Mendocino, Santa Clara, Marin, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, and Napa. In most cases, customers elsewhere in the country can get free two-day shipping for orders of $49 or more at the three Quidsi sites.

On the one hand, the new service—which is being offered indefinitely rather than as some short-term promotion—makes sense as an offensive in the ongoing battle for moms involving Target, Amazon, Walmart, and plenty of other retail players. Women reportedly account for 85% of all consumer purchases, and despite the fact that today’s dads are taking care of more responsibility around the house, moms tend to still be in charge of most traditional household purchases—including but not limited to baby, pet, and health and beauty products.

On the other hand, however, the easy availability of free overnight shipping for goods you need regularly, with a reasonable minimum purchase, serves as an argument against the worthiness of paying $99 annually for Amazon Prime, which comes with “free” two-day shipping on most purchases. In other words, the new service—from Amazon companies, remember—makes it much easier for customers to stop paying for another Amazon service, one that has been enormously powerful and profitable for the world’s largest e-retailer.

MONEY Shopping

Target Is Closing Another 11 Stores

woman with shopping cart and wallet
iStock

On Tuesday, Target announced it will be closing 11 U.S. stores, making a total of 19 closures in less than 12 months.

In the aftermath of last year’s monumental data breach of customer credit card information—not to mention years of underwhelming sales at some retail locations—Target decided to close eight stores in May, including two stores in the Las Vegas area and two stores in Ohio. This week, Target announced it will be closing 11 more stores in the U.S., including two Chicago-area locations and three Targets in Michigan.

The 11 stores will be shut down by February 1, 2015. “The decision to close a Target store is only made after careful consideration of the long-term financial performance of a particular location,” a company statement accompanying the announcement explained. “In most cases, a store is closed as a result of seeing several years of decreasing profitability,” a Target spokesperson added in an email to (Minneapolis) StarTribune.

There are roughly 1,800 Target stores in the U.S., and the number of planned closures pales in comparisons to the likes of troubled chains such as RadioShack and Sears. Yet it’s worth noting that that Target’s reputation among shoppers and the retail industry as a whole has declined greatly since the pre-recession years, when the cheap-chic darling was belovedly known as “Tarjhay.”

Over the summer, Target hired a new CEO, Brian Cornell, a former CEO at PepsiCO Americas Foods, with the hopes that new leadership could help the company rebound from its troubling slump, as well as the embarrassing and costly data breach that potentially compromised the information of well over 100 million customers. More recently, Target introduced its plans for the 2014 winter holiday season, which include a special offer of free shipping with no minimum purchase required on all orders placed at target.com through December 20.

Read next: It Doesn’t Matter if Alex From Target Is Real or Fake

MONEY Tech

Why Amazon is Quietly Investing in a Massive Land Grab

Amazon.com employees work the shelves along the miles of aisles at an Amazon.com Fulfillment Center in Phoenix.
This Amazon.com Fulfillment Center in Phoenix has aisles that go on for miles. Ross D. Franklin—AP

Here's how Amazon is building its competitive advantage.

Correction: Appended, Nov. 6.

On the outskirts of almost every major city in America, Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.1788% is building massive but inconspicuous warehouses designed to dispatch goods in an increasingly real-time fashion.

The strategy is expensive, consuming billions of dollars in capital expenditures every year, but its audacious scale and execution could consolidate Amazon’s still-incipient stranglehold over the biggest retail market in the world.

The transformation of Amazon

It’s important for investors to appreciate that the Amazon of today is nothing like the Amazon of five years ago.

In 2009, it operated 18 fulfillment centers in a smattering of second-tier states such as Washington, Indiana, Kentucky, Kansas, and Delaware. Today, more than 60 of these mammoth facilities are scattered across the country in proximity to the nation’s major population centers.

amzn-fulfillment-network_large

The expansion gives Amazon physical beachheads from which it can capture a growing share of retail sales on a city-by-city basis. Perhaps most importantly, it chips away at one of the principal deterrents to online shopping: immediacy.

Thanks to fulfillment centers built since 2012, Amazon offers same-day delivery to customers in 12 out of the 14 largest metropolitan areas, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. A full 31% of the American population can now order something from Amazon in the morning and get it delivered to their doorstep that evening.

“As we get closer and closer to customers with fulfillment, we have seen growth,” Chief Financial Officer Tom Szkutak said on a conference call last year.

The move also lays the groundwork for Amazon’s long-known desire to tap into the $600 billion-a-year grocery market, which is second only in size to the $650 billion market for general merchandise.

It’s initiated grocery delivery services in its hometown of Seattle as well as in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. And by its own admission, it is “branching out as fast as we can while being careful not to sacrifice the quality and convenience our customers expect.”

Finally, this burgeoning infrastructure will allow Amazon to capture share in the market for bulky, big-ticket items such as televisions, refrigerators, and laundry machines. In 2013, for instance, it opened facilities in Texas and Florida designed specifically to “pick, pack, and ship large items to customers, such as kayaks, televisions, and more.”

A land grab of unprecedented size

Taken together, the speed and scale at which Amazon is expanding its network of fulfillment centers represents a retail land grab unseen since Wal-Mart WAL-MART STORES INC. WMT -0.5269% exploded onto the scene in the second half of the 20th century. And the stakes this time around are even greater.

Whereas Wal-Mart disrupted mom-and-pop retailers and general merchandisers, Amazon’s ambitions are without limit. It wants to be the “everything store,” and it’s laying waste to large swaths of the existing retail landscape in its pursuit of that objective.

Moreover, whereas the vulnerabilities of Wal-Mart and other big-box retailers were exposed by the emergence of e-commerce, it’s hard to imagine another paradigm shift anytime soon that will further reduce costs while simultaneously increasing convenience.

In short, by laying siege to local marketplaces with fulfillment centers, it isn’t unreasonable to conclude that Amazon is in the process of erecting an impenetrable moat that could last for generations.

MONEY Shopping

Two Dozen Retailers Won’t Open on Thanksgiving–And They’re Shaming the Ones That Will

A slew of national retailers are making a point of the fact that they aren't going along with the trend to open—and open earlier and earlier—on Thanksgiving Day.

In one of the most noticeable trends thus far in the holiday shopping season, several mall mainstays are engaged in an aggressive game of Thanksgiving store hour one-upmanship.

The skirmishes began with Macy’s announcement it would open for “Black Friday” sales starting at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, two hours earlier than last year’s 8 p.m. opening time. Kohl’s and Sears, among others, are matching Macy’s by opening the doors to shoppers at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, while J.C. Penney is trying to trump the competition with a 5 p.m. opening. (Just two years ago, mind you, JCP was closed on Thanksgiving, and didn’t even bother with typical Black Friday sales.)

Best Buy, Walmart, and Toys R Us have a history of opening earlier and earlier each year for Thanksgiving/Black Friday, and by the time they announce sale launch times for this year, it’s likely they’ll be welcoming deal-seeking shoppers sometime in the early afternoon of Thanksgiving, before the day’s first NFL game has even ended—and before the turkey is on the table in many American households. For that matter, many Walmarts are open 24/7 every day of the year including Thanksgiving (but not Christmas). Another contender for the title of biggest Thanksgiving Grinch is Kmart, which is opening at the depressingly early hour of 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and will stay open for 42 hours in a row.

At the same time, however, there are some notable national retailers that are refusing to open on Thanksgiving. Forbes, ThinkProgress, and Mental Floss are among the resources that have rounded up two dozen or so stores that have confirmed they will remain closed on Thanksgiving. The list includes warehouse membership stores Coscto, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club, home improvement giants Home Depot and Lowe’s, department stores Dillard’s and Nordstrom, specialty retailers like GameStop, DSW, and PetCo, and discount chains such as Burlington Coat Factory, Marshall’s, and T.J. Maxx. There are a few others not cited on these lists, including Cabela’s (which is expected to be closed on Thanksgiving but is hosting special shopper events outside stores as early as 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, in anticipation of midnight openings), Menards, a home improvement mega-center chain based in Wisconsin, and Von Maur, an Iowa-based department store chain with 29 locations in 13 states.

Clearly, some consumers will go shopping whenever retailers say their doors will open for Black Friday sales, no matter if it’s a national holiday. A survey from Accenture indicates that 45% of consumers plan on shopping in some capacity on Thanksgiving Day or evening, nearly half of whom will physically go to stores between 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and 5 a.m. on Black Friday. (Presumably, the majority of the rest will focus solely on online shopping.) Yet a much larger percentage of Americans aren’t fans of stores having Thanksgiving Day hours. Roughly six in ten Americans say they “hate” or “dislike” the fact that stores open on Thanksgiving, according to a recent RichRelevance consumer poll, while only a combined 12% claim they “like” or “love” the practice.

To play up to the legions of Americans who want to keep Thanksgiving as sacred and shopping-free as possible, it makes sense for retailers that aren’t opening on Thanksgiving to promote the fact that they’re staying closed on the holiday. As a side benefit, these retailers get to indirectly take pot shots at competitor stores that are opening—stealthily shaming them without overtly blaming them for “ruining Thanksgiving.”

For example, a spokesperson for TJX, which runs retail brands such as Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx, recently told ThinkProgress:

“We consider ourselves an Associate-friendly Company, and, we are pleased to give our Associates the time to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.”

Read between the lines and you’ll see that any retailer forcing employees to work on Thanksgiving must be an “unfriendly” company.

Similarly, an announcement from Von Maur last year included the following statements, which strongly hint that any store opening on Thanksgiving isn’t family-oriented and perhaps is overseen by people who don’t know how to run a business:

“Some things are sacred, including spending time with family and loved ones on Thanksgiving and other holidays. We profitably run our business during the remaining 358 days of the year, so we don’t have to sacrifice tradition for the sake of sales,” said Jim von Maur, president of Von Maur. “Our family-oriented focus has been the cornerstone of our culture since 1872, and that is never going to change.”

Likewise, Menards took out a full-page newspaper ad last year explaining that it was remaining closed on Thanksgiving because the day “should be celebrated with all those we hold dear,” while a recent Costco statement described its reasons for not opening on Thanksgiving:

Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Nothing more complicated than that.

The Boycott Black Thursday page, which encourages consumers to avoid retailers opening on Thanksgiving and give their holiday shopping dollars to those that stay closed, and which now has roughly 60,000 Likes, has been rounding up similar comments from DSW, GameStop, Dillard’s, Nordstrom, and others. The gist of them all is: We’re the good guys that care about keeping American holidays sacred, and we’re giving our workers Thanksgiving off to spend with their families to prove it. As for stores that are insisting on opening on Thanksgiving … you can draw your own conclusions.

Read next: J.C. Penney Tries to One-Up Rivals With Even Earlier Thanksgiving Opening

TIME Retail

J.C. Penney Tries to One-Up Rivals With Even Earlier Thanksgiving Opening

JC Penney CEO
In this April 9, 2013 file photo, customers arrive at a J.C. Penney store in New York. Mark Lennihan—AP

J.C. Penney will open its stores at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving in search of an edge over Macy’s and Kohl’s

We all know where this is heading, right?

J.C. Penney said on Monday it would open its stores for Black Friday shopping at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, an hour earlier than its closest competitors Macy’s, Kohl’s and Sears , and three hours earlier than it did last year, in the latest upping of the ante in the holiday sales wars.

It’s easy to see why Penney would want to gain an edge on its rivals in what promises to be a bruising, super-promotional holiday season: the department store’s shares recently took a beating last month when it reported disappointing September sales and gave a tepid sales forecast for the coming years. And Customer Growth Partners forecast a “dismal” holiday season. So getting a leg up on the first major shopping occasion of the holiday season is key.

Just a few years ago, all retailers but the discount chains like Walmart and Kmart would hold their Black Friday sales on Black Friday itself. But since the recession, department stores and specialty retailers, fighting for every crumb of retail sales, have been opening earlier and earlier. Wal-Mart Stores has long been open on Thanksgiving Day, but this year doubled the number of Black Friday-like deals over the first weekend after Halloween, which has effectively become the new Black Friday.

Penney learned the hard way how dangerous it is to be closed on a big shopping day while rivals are open: ex-CEO Ron Johnson opened stores at 6 am on Black Friday in 2012, while the competitions opened at midnight, sending shoppers to other stores for six full hours and kicking off a dismal holiday season. Fast forward, and Penney in 2014 is taking no chances.

Penney’s move shows how nervous retailers are and what’s behind “Black Friday creep.” And also that at this rate, mainstream retailers might very well be open all day on Thanksgiving Day within a few years.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

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.
Customers shopping at a Walmart store on Black Friday 2013. Kevork Djansezian—Reuters

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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