Thanksgiving is still two weeks away, but Black Friday has already begun -- at least for some retailers.
Best Buy on Wednesday began offering "Black Friday" discounts on hundreds of items, including big-screen TVs, Apple Watches and tablets. Walmart followed a day later, with $6 pajamas and $998 Samsung TVs. Amazon.com, meanwhile, started its "Countdown to Black Friday" on Nov. 1, offering dozens of new deals each day. (Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)
In an ever-frenzied race to win over shoppers -- and their money -- retailers are trying to fast- forward to what has historically been the year's largest shopping day. Over the past decade, big-box chains have slowly moved up doorbuster discounts -- from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), to the Thanksgiving holiday itself, and now even earlier, as they try to lock in sales during the crucial fourth quarter, which can account for up to 40 percent of a retailer's annual revenue.
"No matter how you look at it, Black Friday has already begun," said Sarah Engel, chief marketing officer at retail analytics firm DynamicAction. "As soon as the calendar turned to Nov. 1, our inboxes were full of promotions and discounts."
In-store doorbusters are shifting earlier, too. J.C. Penney plans to open its stores at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, while Toys R Us, Best Buy and Kohl's will follow three hours later. Walmart and Target are planning to open at 6 p.m.
Walmart this year is doing away with its "rolling" in-store discounts, aimed at getting customers to come into its stores multiple times on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Instead, the retailer will make all of its Black Friday deals available online beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Those same discounts, executives said, will be available at the company's stores beginning at 6 p.m. that day.
"No rolling deals" this year, Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., said in a media call Wednesday. "It's kind of one event."
As the country's biggest retailers shift their focus to earlier in November, others are following out of fear of being left behind. After all, Engel said, a customer isn't likely to need more than one big-screen TV or tablet. If they pick up big-ticket items in early November, they probably won't be looking to shell out again on Black Friday, regardless of how deep the discounts are.
The earlier discounts, Engel said, could also create challenges down the line for retailers. (More than 40 percent of Americans have already started their holiday shopping by Nov. 1, according to the National Retail Federation.)
"If everything is already 40 percent off, it's going to take a lot more to get shoppers excited about Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday," the traditional start of holiday shopping online, she said. "How do you convince them to keep buying?"
The earlier-than-usual internet sales also serve another purpose: helping retailers test-drive their websites ahead of the frenzied rush on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Now, this year's Black Friday is expected to be the busiest online shopping day in history, according to recent data by Salesforce.
"If your system goes down for even five minutes on Black Friday, it's millions of lost dollars," said Roland Gossage, chief executive of GroupBy, an e-commerce platform used by retailers such as CVS, Urban Outfitters and the Container Store. "Pre-sales allow retailers to test their systems before the after-Thanksgiving barrage."