It’s a full week before Thanksgiving, and the deals have been rolling into my inbox this month faster than I can say, “hey, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet!”
And still, they tell me that if I buy today, I can save, save, save, even though Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving that has traditionally kicked off the holiday shopping season, and when retailers typically offer their best deals—is more than a week away.
“The Black Friday Event is here,” Madewell says, offering 40% off my purchase in an email. “The Black Friday Event—25% off sitewide begins now,” the retailer Jennie Kayne brags. Best Buy’s Black Friday event begins Friday, Nov. 17. Target wants me to know that if I shop early, I’ll save, since its Black Friday sales have already begun. In my inbox only Walmart seems prudish, telling me I have to wait until Wednesday, Nov. 22 to shop Black Friday deals online.
So what’s going on? Why are so many retailers jumpstarting the season?
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In short, they are afraid. Despite inflation and rising interest rates, consumer spending has been a key driver of the economy this year, according to US Bank. But as the traditionally lucrative holiday season approaches, analysts are finally seeing some signals that a slowdown is starting. U.S. retail sales fell 0.1% in October from a month earlier, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday, which was the first time sales have fallen since March. Target reported slower sales in its earnings call on Wednesday, saying consumers were pulling back on discretionary spending—the first quarterly sales decline in six years.
“Retailers are a bit nervous, and they know it’s going to be a challenging holiday season,” says Neil Saunders, managing director at the research firm GlobalData. “They want to pull in people to shop now, because if they leave it too late, they’re afraid customers may go elsewhere.”
Such big discounts can be damaging to profitability, he says, but freight and shipping costs have fallen so much that retailers can afford to offer the sales. And the only way to beat out fellow retailers is to offer consumers value they can’t find elsewhere, since they’re penny-pinching to deal with inflation. “The consumer is not in a terrible place, but they’re cautious and you have to nudge them into spending,” he says.
Brittain Ladd, an independent retail analyst, adds that the early discounts are also used in an attempt to get the customer to shop multiple times throughout the holiday season. Look closely and you’ll see that most retailers aren’t offering discounts on everything, but instead on certain items, in a way that ensures you can’t do all of your holiday shopping now if you want to wait for bargains. If they can get customers excited about deals now and deals later, he says, they can bank on more consumer spending in the next few months.
“They are really wanting to do whatever they can to get consumers to buy,” he says.