Only 42 days left until … the day you buy gifts that you’re supposed to hand out several weeks later. Black Friday used to serve as an unofficial kickoff of the holiday shopping season. The big day full of sales was a reminder that shoppers only had about a month before presents were expected to be under the Christmas tree—so it was best for consumers to get started with those holiday shopping lists! Now, however, there are countdowns in anticipation of the day that used to essentially be the start of a countdown.
Every year, retailers manage to expand the holiday shopping season. There are Christmas displays in September, layaway promotions announced around Labor Day, and “hot toy” lists in circulation long before most kids start thinking about writing their letters to Santa.
And every year, it seems more and more like Black Friday, or rather the whole Black Friday-Cyber Monday-Thanksgiving period, has become something of a holiday and an end unto itself. This is what retailers want, of course: To them, the day consumers give out presents is of almost no importance compared to the day(s) we buy them.
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This year, within a few hours of pumping up its Columbus Day sales, Staples launched its Holiday Center online, complete with a countdown not to Christmas or the first day of Hannukah but to Black Friday. In case you were wondering, as of Thursday, October 11, there were just 43 days until Black Friday. (Christmas takes place another 32 days after that.)
The heightened focus on Black Friday comes, curiously enough, at a time when it’s becoming increasingly clear that Black Friday doesn’t offer shoppers the best deals. Citing data from the price-tracking site Decide.com, the Wall Street Journal recently laid out the fact that, despite the hype and assumptions about Black Friday having the lowest prices, “You’re probably wasting your time” by hitting the mall in the pre-dawn after Thanksgiving:
After crunching two to six years’ worth of pricing data for a number of typical holiday gifts, The Wall Street Journal has turned up the best times to go deal hunting — and they almost never involve standing in the freezing cold all night.
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Instead, the best prices on a variety of merchandise pop up throughout the calendar year. Sometimes, as in the case of clothing and kitchen apparatus, the discounts in the days right before Christmas are better than those offered a month earlier. By waiting until just after the holidays, you could save even more.
Nonetheless, retailers will continue building up Black Friday—countdowns and all—as an epic day for deals. Behind the scenes, they’re hard at work strategizing ways to make the day a “marketing bonanza by carefully selecting items for deep discounts while continuing to price broader merchandise at levels that won’t kill profits,” according to the Journal.
Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.