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Shoppers Plan Strategy for Black Friday

You don't have to wait for Black Friday deals anymore.

With consumers shopping earlier and retailers rolling out deep discounts Black Friday-like prices in early November, the day after Thanksgiving may be diminishing in importance as the traditional launch of the annual holiday shopping frenzy.

Although it remains a tradition for millions of shoppers across America, a survey commissioned by dealnews.com found that fewer people plan to shop on Black Friday this than last and that they plan to spend less money.

Shoppers' game plans could be affected by the economy. While there are signs the country is coming out of the worst recession in decades, huge numbers of people are still unemployed and many consumers remain skittish about spending. And, of course, the deals are already good, and could get better as the holidays near.

"People aren't chomping at the bit to get out and spend money like they used to," said retail analyst Candace Corlett. "They're being much more thoughtful about their purchases."

But retailers are hoping that frugal consumers may decide to splurge a bit this year like they did in 2007, the last big holiday shopping season.

The shopping frenzy on the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally puts retail stores in the "black" for the year hence the name Black Friday.

After a year of steady declines, one day of shopping may not instantly make struggling businesses profitable this year. But it could substantially pare back their losses and, if sales are strong, brighten spirits for everyone.

To boost their chances at profitability, retailers have reduced inventories, stocked up on lower priced merchandise and offered deals usually reserved for black Friday in early November.

More stores and malls are opening earlier on Black Friday, many at midnight.

Consumers are shopping earlier to spread purchases over several paychecks and they are comparing prices and looking for a deal on everything.

The outlook remains mixed. The National Retail Federation predicts the average consumer will spend $683 on holiday-related shopping this season, a 3.2 percent drop from last year's $705. But the International Council of Shopping Centers is predicting 2009 holiday sales will exceed last year by 1 percent or more.

Janette Silverman of Phoenix used to get up at 4 a.m. and stand in line to score free gifts and take advantage of retailers' blockbuster Black Friday deals.

But a few years ago, she endured the wait, and once she got inside the store, the item she wanted was sold out. She went home and bought in online for only a few dollars more.

Now she studies the Black Friday newspaper ads on Thursday, but instead of going to the store, she goes online.

"It beats standing in line at 4 a.m.," she said.

But for many, in-store shopping on Black Friday is a treasured and indispensable Christmas tradition.

The studying of the ads, the plotting of strategies, the exhilaration when the doors finally open and the shoppers burst through the starting gate and the holiday shopping season is underway.

Pam Kern of Glendale traditionally gets up at the crack of dawn to go out with her daughter and daughter-in-law who are in charge of the itinerary.

"It's exciting," she said.

Troy Wheeler of Phoenix said getting up early to shop on Black Friday is one of his favorite things to do.

"I get all my shopping done and there are great deals," he said.

Wheeler has been unemployed for a year, though, and struggles to pay his rent.

He says he'll probably sit Black Friday out this year, unless there are some good free doorbuster gifts.

"It's kind of tough right now," he said.

The holiday shopping season reinforces the profound impact of the recession on both retailers and consumers.

Dan Fitzgerald, a vice president at GFK Market Research said consumers are uncomfortable with conspicuous consumption and looking to make meaningful purchases that make them feel good.

Silverman has been shopping at Changing Hands Bookstore because it's locally-owned and it makes her feel good to support it.

"This year I am trying to support businesses that are locally-owned whenever I can," she said.

Kern said she plans to spend less money on holiday gifts this year and is buying more practical items. Her grown grandchildren are getting gift boxes with household items such as toilet paper, cleanser and paper towels. She also is giving gift cards from Walmart because they can also be used to buy food.

But Kern, an astute shopper, sometimes finds the early season deals offered by the national chains hard to resist. She recently bought a present at office supplies retailer Staples because it came with a gift card. That allowed her to buy something for herself in addition to the gift for a friend.

Silverman has already completed much of her holiday shopping and Black Friday is still a week away.

"You don't have to wait for Black Friday to start shopping," Silverman said. "There are plenty of good buys now.

And with retailers cutting back on inventories this year, shopping early could be the best strategy in order to get the best selection of products and sizes.

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