Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Stores are starting Black Friday discounts a week early, with Walmart and Sears leading the charge. And the early birds catch the deals -- shoppers have already begun lining up Thursday night across the U.S.
Walmart, the world's largest retailer, is taunting its competitors with a price-matching program. It starts pre-sales Friday morning at 8 a.m. with prices lowered a week earlier than competitors Target, Toys R' Us and Best Buy. Sears and its Kmart stores also began offering new promotions through its "Shop Your Way" program, as the struggling retailer tries to catch up.
This is a dangerous threat given that many retailers lowered their earnings forecasts for the year, with holiday sales damaging their bottom lines. Kohl's, Best Buy and Target are among these retailers. Walmart pushed down forecasts as well. They've all announced competitive pricing, and the array of deals is overwhelming.
"Black Friday is our Super Bowl and we plan to win," said Duncan MacNaughton, Walmart U.S. chief merchandising and marketing officer in a pre-Black Friday announcement.
Walmart and Amazon have been promoting flash deals online, and Cyber Monday for Walmart will begin on Saturday instead and last a week. A Nielsen report predicts the number of shoppers participating in Cyber Monday will rise, while the number shopping at physical stores for Black Friday will dip.
And all of this is in addition to traditional in-store Black Friday deals, which are starting a day early on Thanksgiving night this year. The National Retail Federation predicts a 4 percent rise in holiday expenditures, even though the holiday season is pushed back a week with a later Thanksgiving. It also notes that holiday sales can amount to nearly 40 percent of yearly sales.
Stores say they've prepped their inventories for the rise, and have guarantee programs in place for customers.
And free shipping has also become a battleground for a number of retailers, with Walmart and Amazon keeping free shipping requirements to $35. Amazon recently struck a deal with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver on Sunday.
Now, it's just down to whether these mega-retailers can deliver what customers seek.
[USA Today] [CNET]