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Retailers in region already rolling out holiday deals

A sign displays the deal of the day at the Moorhead Kmart store. (David Samson /The Forum)1 / 2
Zhu Zhu Pets toys are popular for this holiday season. The shelves of the new south Fargo Wal-Mart are empty as soon as new inventory is released. (David Samson /The Forum)2 / 2

FARGO -- It's already the season for holiday deals, with many local retailers discounting prices now instead of waiting for Black Friday, traditionally the day after Thanksgiving.

Sears advertised "Black Friday now!" sales that began Saturday. Kohl's advertised two days of its "most powerful prices" Friday and Saturday.

Wal-Mart started offering special electronics savings events Saturday, offering a $300 notebook computer, a $30 DVD player and a $150 Blu-ray player.

Kmart advertised a "better than Black Friday sale" Friday and Saturday, including 40 percent off coats, a $430 television for $350 and a $100 camcorder for $50.

Retailers are offering holiday promotions earlier in order to win over more customers because shoppers are looking at price before anything else, said Kathy Grannis, National Retail Federation spokeswoman.

A recent study by BDO Seidman, a national accounting and consulting organization, shows that 96 percent of chief marketing officers at leading U.S. retailers expect to offer more discounts and promotions this holiday season. That's up from 88 percent last year and 73 percent in 2007.

"Kmart realizes that the economy is tight and a lot of retailers felt the impact of that last season," said Molly Lange, Moorhead Kmart store manager. "So anything we can do to get a jump-start with our Christmas shoppers, we're just trying to be aggressive."

Kmart has started a rewards program that allows shoppers to win prizes and earn money to be used in its stores. The company is showcasing a "special of the day" until Christmas. It has also brought back "blue light specials" on weekends, with prices reduced on different items every hour.

"The economy is really motivating people to look for those deals," Lange said. "If there's anything that is even slightly less, people will take the time to at least consider it and perhaps buy."

Target has started matching prices when shoppers bring in competitors' ads, said Ben Smith, Fargo Target store team leader.

In September, Wal-Mart announced that it is pricing more than 100 toys at $10. Earlier this month, the company announced that it slashed the prices of even more toys, many by 20 to 30 percent.

"We've done some very aggressive pricing in our toy department, and we've seen some great traffic and customer responses," said John Pies, manager of the new Fargo Wal-Mart on 55th Avenue South.

Seventy percent of consumers planned to start their holiday toy shopping before Halloween, Wal-Mart customer research shows. Two out of 10 planned to finish by Halloween, and more than 50 percent of moms want to finish their holiday shopping by Thanksgiving.

"We've noticed that shoppers want to do their shopping earlier," Pies said. "It seems like they're planning more forward-thinking, given the economy."

June Hagemeister of West Fargo, doing some Christmas shopping Monday for her great-grandchildren at Wal-Mart, said she's been impressed with the discounts she has found at local retailers.

"At my age, you can't be shopping at the last minute," said Hagemeister, who is almost 80. "It's too hard with the crowds."

The National Retail Federation finds that people are still beginning the majority of gift shopping in November. What's different this year are the sales and promotions that began as early as July.

"It's just the nature of the economy that we're in," Grannis said. "It's hard for people to shop for gifts these days, and retailers understand that. They're trying to find creative ways to connect with their shoppers and give them great prices at the same time."

Many stores are enticing customers to spread out their shopping, because retailers have had to cut inventory levels, Grannis said.

More than half of retailers surveyed by BDO Seidman said they reduced holiday inventory purchases by an average of 10 percent.

"This means that popular items won't necessarily be around after Black Friday," Grannis said.

Store managers are already seeing popular items flying off the shelves.

The new South Fargo Walmart sold hundreds of interactive hamster toys called Zhu Zhu Pets on Oct. 28, the day it opened.

"It seems to be the toy of choice this season," Pies said. "As soon as we get them in, it seems they're going out."

The Fargo Target store has also seen increased sales for other toys, television sets, gaming systems and games, Smith said.

The company plans to scale up inventory on items such as electronics and toys, he said.

Stores are also extending hours and luring Web site shoppers by offering free shipping and online-only sales.

Because offering Black-Friday-level savings weeks or even months in advance is a product of the economy, it's not a practice that will necessarily stay in place, Grannis said.

Chief marketing officers expect overall sales to increase by 2.6 for the 2009 holiday season, according to BDO Seidman.