US retailers were set to usher in the start of the holiday season yesterday with expanded hours, generous discounts and gift vouchers.
In a slowing but still steady economy, retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc were increasing the sales pitch to shoppers, hoping to grab customer dollars before the competition does. A growing number of stores and malls even threw open their doors at midnight to jump-start the season.
Thursday was the Thanksgiving national holiday. The day that follows it is known as Black Friday, so named because it was traditionally when the surge of shopping made stores profitable.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, which promised its most aggressive price strategy ever this holiday season, is using heavily discounted flat-screen televisions like Viore 42-inch plasma TVs for US$988 to attract shoppers to its doors for its 5am opening yesterday.
Meanwhile, Sears Holdings Corp's Sears, Roebuck and Co, which was scheduled to open at 5am yesterday, one hour earlier than a year ago, was giving out US$10 reward cards for the first 200 shoppers that showed up to the stores. Other early bird specials include Protron 37-inch liquid-crystal-diode high-definition TVs for US$949.99 and 50 percent discounts on many toys. At Sears Holdings' Kmart stores, shoppers will find 50 percent discounts on men's and women's outerwear as part of its early morning doorbuster deals.
"Retailers are doing more to get consumers into the stores earlier this year," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of the American Research Group, based in Charleston, South Carolina.
While Black Friday officially starts holiday shopping, it's generally no longer the busiest day of the season -- that honor now falls to the last Saturday before Christmas. But stores see Black Friday as setting an important tone to the overall season: What consumers see that day influences where they will shop for the rest of the season.
Still, Black Friday isn't a bellwether of the holiday season.
Last year, total sales dipped 0.9 percent to US$8 billion on the Friday after Thanksgiving, dampened by deep discounting, from the year-ago period, according to Shopper Trak RCT Corp., which tracks total sales at more than 45,000 mall-based retail outlets. For the Thanksgiving weekend, total sales rose just 0.4 percent to US$16.8 billion.