The New Early Jump on Holiday Shopping

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Christmas on … Independence Day? Determined to avoid a repeat performance of last year?s lackluster sales, retailers have moved up ?Christmas creep? even earlier than usual, stocking shelves with gifts during the summer months.

Kmart and Toys ?R? Us, for example, launched holiday promotions in July for the first time. How to time and hit the best deals:

EARLY ISN?T EVERYTHING
Even though red and green decorations were in stores before Labor Day, experts say the biggest bargains will pop up closer to December. ?They?re not giving away the house ? yet,? says Marshal Cohen, of market research firm NPD Group. Early promotions are more about getting shoppers? attention than they are about offering killer deals, he adds. That said, sale strategies vary by category, and the products hit hardest by the Great Recession ? apparel, luxury goods ? are likely to be discounted early and often.

WATCH FOR LEAN AND MEAN
Retailers will keep inventory down this year, experts say, so the more popular items will likely be harder to find as the holidays approach. Stores will stock less variety, too, meaning consumers looking for uncommon items may need to shop sooner. Also, since holiday promos started early, some goods will languish on the shelves for months, says Cohen, who warns folks to watch out for products that look ?a little shopworn.?

Online retailers fared pretty well in the recession ? e-commerce sales increased 13 percent last year, according to Forrester Research ? so many e-tailers will feel less pressure to match the deals at their brick-and-mortar counterparts. But on Black Friday after Thanksgiving and other major sale days, going online can offer a big advantage, as Web sales often start at midnight, hours before stores open.

READ YOUR MAIL
To avoid mass discounting, more retailers are sending frequent customers special offers by mail or e-mail, says Stacy Janiak, a U.S. retail leader for consulting firm Deloitte. To benefit, sign up for mailing lists or loyalty clubs for your favorite stores. Of course, then you?ll have to open junk mail, says Janiak, ?rather than pitch everything in the garbage.?

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2009 Copyright The New York Times Syndicate