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Get 'em While They Last: Early Black Friday Deals Pop-up Online

You don’t need to line up at 4 a.m. to beat the bargain hunters on Black Friday.

In some cases, the steep price cuts retailers call “doorbuster deals" the day after Thanksgiving are available now. And if you’re hunting online, chances are, you’ll find retailers engaged in price wars to win your dollar.

With unemployment creeping up to 10.2 percent in October — a 26-year-high — and the National Retail Federation predicting a 1 percent fall in spending from last year, which was the worst holiday retail sales season in four decades, retailers are putting less emphasis on Black Friday, and are jump-starting the frenzied shopping season now.

Sure, you’ll find exclusive in-store steals on Black Friday, the biggest single sales day for retailers, and retailers still offer some of the best deals to Black Friday crowds, but many of the deals are available online or in-store up to a week in advance to maximize the potential for sales. Here are some examples:

Best Buy is offering a $299.99 32-inch Dynex LCD HDTV now, and is offering its Friday doorbuster deals online on Thanksgiving.

Target has a $199 Acer Aspire Notebook advertised online now, and in its Black Friday ad.

Walmart is advertising a 22-inch Vizio LCD HDTV for $284 on its Web site now, and special prices on Guitar Hero, Band Hero and DJ Hero games.

And Amazon.com is searching Black Friday ads from all major retailers and guarantees it will meet or beat prices on select items all week long.

“There is no risk for the retailer to promote an early Black Friday sale,” said Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief of DealNews.com, a site that monitors the best online deals and has compiled a guide to the best Black Friday deals.

“Black Friday is a magic marketing term that explains to consumers the quality of the deal. You will see retailers advertising pre-Black Friday sales the first week of November. It is common this year, it will be more common next year, and it will remain that way until it backfires, or there is some kind of backlash.”

George Whalin, president of Retail Management Consultants in Carlsbad, said stores opening earlier and promoting deals sooner “is part of a significant change in how consumers and retailers interact this time of year.” But, he said, it doesn’t undermine the importance of Black Friday and sales traffic throughout the weekend.

“This has always been an important time for retailers,” Whalin said. “It’s no less important this year.”

Whalin said he anticipates this season will be better than last, but, he added, “We’re a long way from seeing a turnaround in the economy, and the holiday season will reflect the dire circumstances of consumers.”

Retailers, too, will likely be cautious. Last year, Whalin said they got burned. They weren’t prepared for the sharp decline in the economy, and overbought inventory that had to be drastically discounted later.

“That isn’t going to be the case this year,” he said. “They’ll be aggressive in pricing, but there isn’t going to be a lot to choose from.”

Modest Gains vs. Sales Boom

"Monday’s stock market gains and reported increases in home and auto sales may indicate people are more confident spending this holiday season," said Kenneth Bates, an associate professor of marketing at the University of San Diego.

Bates, who has taught courses in consumer behavior, predicts more consumers will spend this season compared to last, but guesses they will spend less, do more price comparing and avoid impulse buys.

“Obviously, people are still struggling and there are still a lot of people who are not able to spend,” Bates said. “But, I think this year, those people who can spend actually will, as opposed to last year when even the people who had money to spend didn’t, because of all the uncertainty.”

Bates also anticipates retailers will use promotions throughout the season to attract consumers and try to build steady, modest gains, as opposed to blowout sales on Black Friday. Bates said a big sales day on Black Friday could signal trouble the rest of the season. Early promotions that de-emphasize Black Friday may help contribute to steady sales traffic through the end of the year.

“If we see great sales numbers Friday, that may mean people are very price sensitive this year, and that they may be getting a lot of shopping done during the doorbuster sales,” he said. “We’d be better off with more consistent sales and a better overall season. I think that’s why we’re seeing some of the early promotions.

“If we see a sales boom Friday, I don’t think sales will be as good the rest of the season. It will show price over-sensitivity. But, nice, modest gains, and getting a lot more consumers into stores will be a really good indicators that people will be out shopping the rest of the season.”

And, Bates said, the online deals retailers are offering reach bargain hunters on the Web, who might otherwise skip our on Black Friday shopping.

“Everyone’s just trying to figure out the best way to create more consistent consumer shopping throughout the season,” he said.

Tips for Buyers

De Grandpre, Whalin and Bates shared their tips for consumers, who are hunting for the best deals this season.

Exclusive in-store bargains will be in short supply, or only offered for a limited time Friday morning. And, with retailers stocking less inventory, once they’re gone the deal is done, Whalin and Bates said.

For the bargain hunters who insist on shopping on Black Friday, this means: get there early.

“If there are things you want, you’d better be first in line,” Whalin said.

“From a consumer standpoint, I think there is reason to shop around and price compare, but I’d caution against consumers dragging their feet, hoping to get a steal,” he said. “Inventories will be lower, so those items consumers fall in love with may not be there if they wait until the very last minute to buy.”

If Black Friday shopping isn’t steeped in your tradition, de Grandpre said hunting for deals online or taking advantage of early bargains will mean you’re more likely to get the best deal — and you won’t have to fight the crowds.

De Grandpre offered a few shopping tips: “Price comparing deals is a good thing to do; you can dodge one or all of the trips you planned on making,” he said. “Black Friday is notorious for great deals and a lot of hassle; if you can dodge the hassle by going online to shop while sitting in your pajamas, it would behoove you to do so.”

by Joseph Pena, SDNN.com. Peña is the lifestyle editor for San Diego News Network. He can be reached at joseph.pena(a)sdnn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @josephpena" For more information visit SDNN.com.