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Retailers Launch Their Best-Laid Holiday Plans

11/17/2013 07:00:00 PM Eastern

NEW YORK – With six fewer shopping days and one less weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas – and a Hanukkah that arrives before Black Friday – retailers are wasting no time getting the holiday lead out.

Walmart and Amazon.com were among the first out of the gate, beginning their Black Friday promotional periods with a blitz of early-bird specials and daily deals while Halloween trick-or-treaters were still out and about.

Walmart kicked off its campaign on the first of the month at midnight with more than 300 specially discounted items, including a 42-inch JVC LED TV for $299 and a 10-inch Xelio tablet for $49. The discounter described the prices as its lowest ever for those screen sizes online.

“We know that our customers start shopping for the holidays on Nov. 1 because historically our traffic spikes the day after Halloween,” said Joel Anderson, president/CEO of Walmart.com.

At the same time, Amazon launched its Black Friday Deals Store, offering two “Deals of the Day” through Dec. 22 and hundreds of weekly “Lightening Deals” on CE and other categories.

Indeed, CE will be a key seasonal focus for Amazon, which has also released an Electronics Holiday Gift Guide highlighting 350 suggested tech gifts and offering a daily deal through Dec. 31.

“We’re making it easy for customers to discover and zero-in on the hottest gifts and holiday trends, from streaming media players to Bluetooth portable speakers,” said Amazon CE VP Ben Hartman. “Our Electronics Holiday Gift Guide is designed to help people shop how they like: by price, category, gift recipient and interest. The guide gives customers gift ideas for everyone on their list, making it easy to shop from the comfort of home and take advantage of fast and free shipping.”

Amazon said core CE gifting trends this season will include multiple Kindle e-readers and tablets for households; wireless speakers, headphones and media drives; lightweight laptops with extended battery life; and home theaters equipped with 65-inch and larger TVs with Ultra HD resolution, supported by soundbars and streaming media players.

Amazon also cited the continued growth of mobile shopping, noting that tens of thousands of new customers make their first-ever Amazon purchases each day via mobile devices.

Getting the jump on both of them was The Home Depot, which broke its first Black Friday sale price, on a Maytag laundry pair, on Halloween. According to merchandising VP Bob Baird, most of the chain’s Maytag and Whirlpool sale prices went into effect Nov. 4, followed by a department-wide launch on Nov. 7 and the first print ads on Nov. 10.

“The prices you see in our print ads are our Black Friday prices,” Baird said. “They do not get any cheaper between the start and the end of the event on Dec. 4.”

Meanwhile, Sears and Kmart said they will continue their tradition of opening their stores on Thanksgiving Day.

Kmart, which has done so for the past 22 years, will open its doors at 6 a.m. on turkey day, and will remain open for the next 41 hours, through 11 p.m. Black Friday evening.

Sister chain Sears will open for the third consecutive Thanksgiving, beginning at 8 p.m., and will continue to operate through 10 p.m. Black Friday night.

They lead a growing cadre of national chains opting to open on the national holiday, including such longtime holdouts as Macy’s and JCPenney.

In a statement, parent company Sears Holdings noted that its stores are staffed with seasonal employees and those who have volunteered to work, and that Sears received “an overwhelmingly positive response from members and customer who took advantage of shopping Black Friday deals early.”

The retailer said it will preview its Thanksgiving and Black Friday deals at SearsLocalAd.com and KmartLocalAd.com, and will also offer lease-to-own options for Kmart customers and additional rewards points for Sears cardholders and Shop Your Way loyalty program members during the holiday season.

The chains will also continue to offer free in-store pick-up of online purchases and mobile shopping options.

CE retailers following suit with Thanksgiving Day hours include Best Buy, Toys“R”Us and Office- Max. Best Buy said most of its stores will open at 6 p.m. on turkey day and remain open through 10 p.m. Black Friday night. Waves of deals are planned for the week, beginning with pre-Thanksgiving specials for online and loyalty club customers.

Similarly, Toys“R”Us will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving and will give loyalty club members early access to some of the 300 doorbuster deals it’s planning for Black Friday weekend.

Like Sears, OfficeMax plans to open its doors at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, when it will launch the first of three rounds of sales events.

The newly merged unit of Office Depot said the decision to open on the national holiday is “consistent with many retailers,” and that 35 million shoppers visited stores on Thanksgiving Day last year.

“Black Friday shopping has become a celebrated and cherished tradition nationwide, and we know that many customers want to get a head start on the savings as part of their holiday festivities,” said OfficeMax retail president Michael Lewis.

Guests that night will be greeted with three rounds of doorbuster events, beginning at 8 p.m., 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 29, in addition to a host of Black Friday ad deals running through Saturday.

Online-only promotions will begin even earlier, on Wed., Nov. 27, at 9 p.m. EST, with free shipping provided on most orders of $20 or more through Dec. 2 (Cyber Monday).

Elsewhere, Almo, the national appliance, CE and pro A/V distributor, will provide exclusive white-goods promotions for 250 of its dealers on Small Business Saturday (Nov. 30).

The distributor will also offer marketing materials and social media training to assist the dealers with their event-related advertising.

Small Business Saturday is an annual American Express initiative that encourages consumers to shop local. It culminates on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The Almo effort is supported by a $100,000 promotional budget developed for the distributor by vendor partners Frigidaire, Samsung, LG, Sharp and Bosch. The 250 customers selected for the promotion have annual revenues that qualify them as small businesses, and are Almo “Bundle of Brands” dealers that display two or more of the participating manufacturers.

Almo’s Jack Halperin, dealer channel sales senior VP, said the program is part of the distributor’s ongoing commitment to help its independent dealers grow and prosper.

“We developed this promotion to help our most supportive small dealers capture sales as part of the traditional Black Friday retail weekend,” he explained. “Certain of our smaller dealers may not normally participate in Black Friday retail efforts. We hope this promotion will entice them to actively connect with customers and drive sales on Saturday, Nov. 30.”

Almo said it plans to be on location with its participating dealers on Small Business Saturday and will regularly update their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

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