This Year, Black Friday Basically Starts a Week Early—If Not Sooner

The truth is that this year, Black Friday deals launch much earlier than Black Friday, or even Thanksgiving.

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Heading into the peak winter holiday shopping period, there’s been a lot of talk about how the rise of stores opening on Thanksgiving Day means that Black Friday sales start earlier than ever this year. The truth is that Black Friday deals launch much earlier than that—like the Friday before Black Friday.

Among the many arguments against retailers opening on Thanksgiving, perhaps the best is that holiday store hours seem pretty darn unnecessary. Shoppers justify their curious behavior—running out the door after scarfing down turkey and stuffing, exhaustedly browsing crowded store aisles for deals at midnight or maybe 4 a.m.—because of the presence of supposedly extraordinary prices and promotions.

Yet smart shoppers know that year in, year out, many of the best deals don’t pop up until Black Friday weekend has passed. The bargain hunters at dealnews recommend the week of December 8 to 14 as the best period for low prices on toys, for instance, while the consultants at ShopperTrak state that Wednesday, December 4, is the top day of the season for shoppers seeking the elusively blissful combination of great prices and minimal crowds. The reliable appearance of sitewide 50% off specials on Cyber Monday present yet another sensible alternative to hitting the mall on Thanksgiving or any other time during the chaotic Black Friday weekend.

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What’s more, in many cases impatient shoppers out there don’t have to wait Thanksgiving or Black Friday to start snatching up top deals. Given the shortened, desperately competitive holiday shopping period, this year retailers are trying to get a leg up on the rest of the field by wooing consumers days, even weeks before Black Friday. That means: now.

As USA Today reported this week, retailers such as Sears and the Disney Store are introducing Black Friday-style doorbusters—think: 50% off and more—starting November 19, the Friday before Black Friday. In addition to a “Black Friday Week” full of promotions, Amazon is currently hosting a shifting array of limited-time pre-Black Friday Week deals.

Perhaps most notable of all is the latest announcement from Walmart. The world’s largest retailer is attempting to steal the thunder away from the competition by not only matching their Black Friday prices on select items—but by allowing shoppers to buy these Black Friday deals starting an entire week before Black Friday. Starting on Friday, November 22, Walmart shoppers will have access to deals such as the Leap Pad 2 tablet for $39.99 (originally $79) and the Skylanders and Infinity Starter Packs for $37 (originally $75). These and other promotions just so happen to match the deals that Toys R Us will roll out starting on the early evening of Thanksgiving Day. Other Walmart pre-Black Friday deals match prices set to be available on Thanksgiving or Black Friday at Best Buy and Target.

The 2013 winter holiday shopping season is being projected as particularly competitive because of a glitch in the calendar means fewer days than usual between Black Friday and Christmas, and also more importantly because of the fragile state of consumers today. As a Bloomberg story noted, Walmart is resorting to $98 32-inch TVs in order to woo consumers, who are “more deal-driven than ever,” according to Ken Perkins, president of researcher Retail Metrics LLC:

“Discretionary dollars for holiday spending are limited for the large pool of lower- and moderate-income consumers due to lack of wage gains this year coupled with the increased payroll tax.”

(MORE: Your Grandma’s Favorite Store Reinvents Itself as a Hip, Experimental Retailer)

Be aware, however, that the “Black Friday” prices and promotions being pumped up before, during, and after actual Black Friday often aren’t that special. After reviewing the leaked 2013 Black Friday ads of dozens of retailers, the nerdy shoppers at Nerd Wallet say that more than 9 out of 10 of this year’s ads include at least one item selling for the exact same price as it did in the same store for last year’s Black Friday sale.

“Retailers also trick consumers on Black Friday into falling for bad deals with misleading original prices, knockoff deals, and rebates,” Nerd Wallet’s researchers warn. “Shoppers who skip the Black Friday lines, then, might not be missing much. There’s a strong chance they’ll see the same items at the same prices for Black Friday next year.”