By Ashley M. Heher, AP Retail Writer
CHICAGO (AP) -- Sears took "Christmas creep" one step further Wednesday, pitching its weekly sales as "Black Friday doorbuster" deals before Halloween.
The merchant, owned by struggling parent company Sears Holdings Corp., said it would kick off the weekly specials Friday evening and open stores at least two hours early every Saturday through Thanksgiving, hoping to draw shoppers with the promise of markdowns before the day after Thanksgiving.
The traditional shopping spree -- dubbed Black Friday because it often was the day when a surge of shoppers helped stores break into profitability for the full year -- has marked the kickoff of holiday shopping for many shoppers. But its importance has faded in recent years as merchants started hawking the deep sales and expanded hours usually reserved for that day well in advance.
Sears' decision to start the sales nearly a full month in advance of the traditional Nov. 27 shopping spree shows just how desperate the struggling chain -- and its competitors -- are ahead of what's expected to be a grim holiday season.
George Rosenbaum, chairman of the retail consulting firm Leo J. Shapiro and Associates, said he expects other merchants to change their traditional Black Friday strategies, too, either by offering deeper-than-usual discounts or expanding the amount of time they're available to shoppers.
"Retailers are prepared for the worst," he said. "(They're) going to go even more aggressively than they did last year."
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is already advertising its selection of holiday toys for under $10, and Amazon Inc., Target Corp. and Wal-Mart are all going head-to-head slashing down prices on yet-to-be released hardcovers that are for sale on their Web sites.
At best, economists expect holiday sales to be flat from a year ago, when businesses recorded their biggest declines in at least four decades. Economic data released Tuesday showed an even more grim picture, as shoppers said they were worried about job security.
"I think retailers are not counting on much improvement to begin with," said Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Sears spokeswoman Natalie Norris-Howser said the deals will rotate each week. But they'll be available only from 7 a.m. until noon each Saturday. (For the first week of the promotion, Sears will begin the sales this Friday at 5 p.m.)
Norris-Howser said Sears, which is based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., will also offer Saturday specials after Black Friday in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Among the discounts advertised by Sears are a 302-piece Craftsman mechanic's tool set that's half off, a $400 elliptical machine that typically sells for $700, and $80 diamond earnings that are marked down almost 70 percent.
The following week's specials include a 42-inch Zenith plasma screen TV for $499, about 23 percent off.