Nov. 15--The holiday shopping season is nearly a week shorter this year than last, with just 26 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hanukkah arrives earlier, too, beginning the day before Thanksgiving as opposed to last year's Dec. 8.
That means retailers are pushing holiday shopping earlier than ever, hoping to make up for lost time.
At the Eastern Hills Mall, giant wreaths and a 20-foot Christmas tree went up the day after Halloween, two weeks sooner than usual. The mall will begin running its holiday commercials and other advertising this weekend -- the earliest it has ever done so.
"We have had to rearrange the calendar. The merchants are wanting everything early because of the super short season," said Russ Fulton, the mall's general manager. "A great number of my retailers tell me they are adding extra sale ads and specials to lure in the shoppers."
This year's shopping calendar loses an entire weekend, a big loss for retailers who get their most traffic on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. That's also when Western New York retailers get their biggest influx of Canadian shoppers, a vital source of revenue.
"It means our retailers are being very aggressive about capturing holiday shoppers sooner," said Betsey Bonvissuto, marketing director at Boulevard Mall. "It's a very different season this year. Everyone seems to be jumping on the Thanksgiving bandwagon."
Mall anchor stores such as Sears, J.C. Penney and Macy's will open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, so malls and several retailers within them are following suit.
Walmart, Target and Kohl's will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Toys R Us will open at 5 p.m. -- three hours earlier than last year -- and Best Buy, which opened at midnight last Thanksgiving, will open at 6 p.m. Kmart will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
It jump starts Black Friday, the traditional post-Thanksgiving kickoff to the holiday shopping season, and gets cash registers ringing sooner.
Chan-Tell King-Beckwith started her Christmas shopping three weeks early this year, nudged along by early sales, extended store hours and festive Christmas carols trumpeted from store speakers.
"The Christmas stuff has been out since the middle of October, mixed in with the Halloween stuff," King-Beckwith said. "In your mind, it gets you thinking it's December."
Retailers such as Macy's Lowe's, GameStop and Target leaked their Black Friday ads to Web sites such as FatWallet.com earlier than ever. Tool store Harbor Freight's Black Friday circular hit the Web October 15, followed by Macy's which leaked two days later -- roughly a month and a half before the ads would actually run.
Walmart and Amazon have been running pre-Black Friday sales since the beginning of the month.
Retailers are cutting prices faster than in years past in hopes of generating more traffic in stores and online.
"We've already started to see deep discounts released from retailers, some even better than last year's Black Friday coupons," said Jackie Warrick, president at CouponCabin.com.
The early start and extra hype seem to be working so far.
Nearly 54 percent of shoppers said they have already started holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. That's the largest number in the survey's history.
Western New York malls and shopping plazas were mobbed on Veterans Day. The flurry of shoppers carrying multiple bags and packages resembled scenes typically reserved for weekends after the big Black Friday kickoff.
The abundance of Canadian license plates in store and hotel parking lots indicated a large number of cross-border shoppers were making the most of their extended Remembrance Day weekend, getting a head start on holiday shopping.
Consumers who want to spread out their purchases for budgeting purposes are also starting sooner.
Indeed, one fewer week means one fewer paycheck during the holiday season. But with more than a quarter of all shoppers expected to use credit cards to complete at least some of their shopping, and more than half using money they have already saved, it may not have much of an impact on spending if people start later.
Some experts suggested the shorter season could create a sense of urgency among shoppers that could actually help retailers, who depend on holiday sales for up to 40 percent of their annual revenue.
Based on a tally of 125 retailers, the average sales growth for a 32-day season is 0.8 percent year over year, but for a 26-day season it's 1.8 percent, according to Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Still, "front loading" the holiday season could backfire, creating a deeper-than-usual lull during the two weeks following Thanksgiving.
"I have often questioned the wisdom of the Black Friday push for sales, only to experience a week or two pause thereafter," Niemira said.
But this year, expanded hours on the shopping days between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday are likely to create better momentum, spurring consumers to shop on multiple days.
"That is a good thing for the industry," Niemira said.
The National Retail Federation expects holiday retail sales to increase by 3.9 percent this year.
(c)2013 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)
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Original headline: Retailers, making up for lost time, jump-start holiday shopping season
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