U.S. consumers say the deals had better be good if retailers want them to spend their money this weekend.
This is the earliest Thanksgiving since 2007, giving consumers plenty of time to get their shopping done before Christmas and Black Friday deals are designed to get consumers in the spending mood.
A Black Friday shopping survey by the National Retail Federation says as many as 147 million people plan to shop this weekend, down from the 152 million who planned to do so last year. While 71 million said they definitely planned to shop, 76 million others said they would wait and see what retailers had in-store.
"Though the Black Friday tradition is here to stay, there's no question that it has changed in recent years," NRF President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said in a statement. "It's critical for retail companies to constantly evolve as consumers do, and right now shoppers want great deals, good value, and convenience -- exactly what we're seeing with this season's late and early openings, price-matching, layaway and mobile offerings."
Nearly half of shoppers say they keep up with advertising circulars throughout the holiday and more than 30 percent say they watch for television ads. A growing number of U.S. shoppers are keeping track online. The NRF said nearly 27 percent will follow retailers' websites and 31 percent will track emails from retailers to get the latest holiday announcements.
"The days of waking up Thanksgiving morning to find out what retailers' Black Friday promotions will be has transitioned into an ongoing dialogue between companies and their customers starting days in advance," BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow said. "Through sites like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, company blogs, emails and mobile apps, consumers can connect with their favorite retailers like never before."
Discover says consumers plan to spend more this holiday season than last year, as long as retailers are offering good deals. The 2012 Discover Annual Holiday Shopping Survey suggests spending will jump to an average of $838 this year, up from $748 in 2011.
Half of consumers say they plan to spend about the same as they did in 2011, and 23 percent plan to spend more this year. Forty-two percent say retailers' sales and promotions will most influence their holiday spending.
The Discover survey suggests 46 percent of shoppers plan to spend $100 to $500, 26 percent, say they plan to spend $500 to $1,000 and 14 percent say they plan to spend $1,000 to $5,000.
Consumers are looking for good deals online, as well as incentives such as free shipping. Discover said 75 percent of consumers plan to shop around online for better prices.
"When asked to choose from the following five online deals they are looking for, shoppers ranked free shipping first with 79 percent, followed by exclusive sales and offers, coupon codes, early access to sales and Facebook-exclusive promotions," Discover said.
Retailers are expecting to see a boost in mobile shopping this year. The NRF said nearly 53 percent of those who own smartphones and nearly two-thirds of those who own tablets plan to use their devices to research and purchase holiday gifts, food and decor.
Walmart is providing special perks to customers who "like" their Facebook page or download Walmart's mobile app, offering early access to specials and information, the company said.
The Walmart app allows customers to use the "in-store mode" on their smart phones to view local ads, access local store pricing and see the aisle location of products carried in that specific store.
Cyber Monday is a growing trend among shoppers looking to take advantage of special online deals that can save them the hassle of heading out to the shopping mall.
Forty-one percent of respondents to the PriceGrabber.com's third winter holiday shopping survey said they planned to shop on Cyber Monday, up from 37 percent last year and 33 percent in 2010. The online shoppers said they wanted to take advantage of one-day deals, discounts and free-shipping offers.
While Cyber Monday is often associated with employees returning to the office after the Thanksgiving weekend only to spend most of their time browsing for holiday deals online, PriceGrabber's survey suggests 83 percent of people planned to do their Cyber Monday shopping from home.
Rojeh Avanesian, vice president of marketing and analytics for PriceGrabber.com, said clothing and consumer electronics are expected to be the top gift purchases on Cyber Monday.
Plans by Target, Sears and Walmart to get a jump on Black Friday by opening stores Thursday night have sparked fears of employee and consumer backlash.
"Retailers are under immense pressure to get the holiday shopping season off to a strong start," John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said in the firm's holiday shopping outlook. "As big box chains face growing competition from discounters like Target and Walmart, not to mention the fierce competition from online retailers like Amazon.com, they are all compelled to find whatever edge they can to get shoppers into their stores,"
Challenger warned, however, retailers are taking a risk by being open on a day set aside for giving thanks.
"Not only is there the risk of creating disgruntled workers, who feel they have no choice but to accept the holiday hours in this economy, but in the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression, some Americans have soured on the corporate excess and the profits-at-any-cost mentality that some say helped hasten the economic meltdown," Challenger said.
However, he said, it is not as if no one works on Thanksgiving.
"You can't close hospitals or fire departments," he said. "Grocery stores provide essential last-minute Thanksgiving meal items, but also baby formula, medicine and other products that should be obtainable every day of the year. Some would even argue that the NFL provides a necessary service in the form of family entertainment and bonding. However, it would be difficult to argue that the need to buy a deeply discounted DVD player or LCD television cannot wait another eight to 10 hours."
The NRF 2012 holiday spending survey of 9,383 consumers was conducted by BIGinsight Nov. 1-6. The margin of error is 1 percentage point. The Discover survey of 506 male and 497 female adults was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland Oct. 26-30.