It may seem like the calendar is lying this year as a slew of stores offer their annual Black Friday sales long before the big day.
But you won't find them in stores for another day or two. Instead, the deals are on company websites, a trend that's likely to accelerate as fiercely competitive stores spill out their best Black Friday deals ever earlier.
"It's certainly going to reduce the number of people waiting in lines if it's easier to just shop for the exact same deal in your living room," said Barbara Kahn, a Wharton School marketing professor. "That said, some people will still rush to the store, honestly, because they like the thrill of the hunt."
As of yet, most of these deals are merely discounts, rather than the outright riot-generating giveaways like $1 toasters or $10 plasma HDTVs that typically tempt shopper/hunters into sleeping on sidewalks.
A big Black Friday hub, Kohl's has already put 500 early-bird specials for sale online, and shoppers can buy others online starting today, but those going to the physical stores will have to wait until 12:01 a.m. Friday. Deals include things such as a Fisher-Price Imaginext Pirate Ship for $19.99, instead of $59.99, and an Ion Audio LP turntable for $59.99 instead of $129.
The Disney Store chain kicked off its Black Friday deals online on Tuesday, with about 20 percent off items such as princess dolls and a Minnie Mouse pajama and Tutu set for $15, instead of $22.50.
At Target, the majority of the doorbuster Black Friday deals will also be available online on Thursday.
Sears already launched some Black Friday deals online, and researchers at ConsumerSearch.com found some HDTV models are already sold out days ahead of the actual Black Friday.
Most of the time, even the best Black Friday deals are more about "perceived value" than actual discounts, said Carol Osborne, a marketing instructor at the University of South Florida: for instance, $100 off a B-list brand electronic item. "One person might see the value in waiting in line for hours to buy that item," she said. "While others might see more value in saving time than saving a relatively small amount of money.
The National Retail Federation predicts 147 million people plan to shop Black Friday weekend, both in stores and online, and online sales could jump 17 percent over last year.
Still, the sport of Black Friday remains too tempting for many Americans. A full third ofadults say they plan to shop during Black Friday this year, according to a study by WSL/Strategic Retail, partly for the pure sport of it. Lest anyone think that Black Friday is all about gifts, a full 80 percent of shoppers say that's the best time to buy things for themselves.