BY COURTENAY EDELHART, Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Forget Black Friday. Retailers are doing their best to get holiday shoppers in the door long before Thanksgiving.
Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Amazon were just a few of the retailers offering door-buster early bird specials last weekend.
Expect more pre-Thanksgiving sales in the weeks ahead.
"A lot of retailers are looking to extend their Black Friday campaigns much sooner," said Don Ham, vice president of the comparison shopping website BlackFriday.com, which reports a 60 percent spike in traffic compared with this time last year.
Stores are starting early in part because the Great Recession has put devastating weight on consumer spending, so retailers are desperate to entice a nervous public to part with the money it's hoarding.
"The retailers are certainly trying to do what they can to get people to come out, and I'd say it's working to some extent," said Jackie Fernandez, a retail analyst with the Los Angeles office of accounting and consulting firm Deloitte.
"We've gotten used to seeing holiday displays at the mall earlier and earlier. It's to the point now where if you don't see it before Thanksgiving, or even before Halloween in some cases, you think, 'Ooo, what's wrong?" Fernandez said.
There's also a fair amount of salivating at the zealotry with which the most devoted shoppers pursue Black Friday bargains.
"Black Friday has become a phenomenon," Ham said. "Businesses really want to capture those shoppers."
Wal-Mart dangled up to $100 off select flat-screen televisions, and a $50 iTunes gift card for $35.
The sale officially began at 8 a.m. Saturday, but shoppers began lining up at the Northwest Promenade Wal-Mart in Bakersfield about 6:30 a.m.
The line included both newbies and Black Friday veterans who could quote competing offers from memory.
Micci Wilkins, 38, woke up at 6 a.m hoping to buy a 26-inch flat-screen LCD television for $198, but a cashier announced shortly before sales began at 8 a.m. that only two in that size were in stock. That elicited boos and grumbling from disappointed consumers. Wilkins and most others who had come for the smaller television opted to buy the next size up.
"It's still a good deal," said Wilkins, who isn't normally one to rise early for these types of events but couldn't pass up the rock bottom price.
Jeanette Romero, 46, is an old school Black Friday devotee who had researched all the available deals days before waking at 5 a.m. Saturday to make the rounds with friends.
She said she likes pre-Black Friday sales because they're still under most people's radar, and so the crowds are smaller.
"I did this last year and it was awesome," Romero said. "The deals were just as good as Black Friday and there were no lines. I wasn't expecting to wait in line this year, but I guess word is getting out."
Romero said she wasn't worried about early bird deals on Black Friday potentially outshining Saturday's purchases.
"I'm leaving the TV in the box, anyway, because it's a Christmas present. So if I see a better deal later, I'll just return it," she said.
The day after Thanksgiving is referred to as "Black Friday" in business circles because historically, a spike in holiday season purchases that day pushed money-losing retailers out of the red and into the black.
But Black Friday's financial significance isn't as big as it once was, Deloitte's Fernandez said.
"Black Friday is still the biggest shopping day of the year, but it's not the biggest buying day," she said. "People use it to comparison shop. Look around, see what's available. But they tend to wait to see if better deals will come along later as the season progresses.
"There's been a trend of people waiting until closer to Christmas for many years now."
But there's a downside to procrastinating.
"Stores don't have the level of inventory they once did. They aren't ordering as much to begin with and they aren't re-ordering when they sell out, so if you see a great deal, you probably ought to grab it," Fernandez said.