Holiday shopping season is starting earlier than ever

As shoppers prepare to welcome Halloween, the Black Friday deals have already arrived.

Major retailers including Target, Best Buy and Walmart are offering Black Friday prices at the same time as Amazon Prime Day on Oct. 13 and 14, the e-commerce company’s two-day shopping event.

“Prime Day is a shopping holiday,” said Best Buy CEO Corie Barry in an interview with NBC News. “That means lots of people are looking for great deals during the shopping holiday and we feel like it’s really important for us to play a role.”

Best Buy announced on Thursday dozens of deals on Oct. 13 and 14 from its yet-to-be-released Black Friday ad, including a 70-inch Samsung 4K Smart TV for $529.99. Walmart is launching an online-only Big Save Event two days before Prime Day through Oct. 15. Target Deal Days will run during Prime Day with deep discounts across electronics, home, and toys along with “Black Friday pricing all November long.”

“What we’re trying to do is smooth out and make this holiday longer, a little less peaky, so that you have hopefully more ability to have shoppers in your stores at controlled levels,” Barry said.

The coronavirus has roiled the retail industry over the last six months, pushing companies to rethink the traditional timeline for holiday shopping. Amazon Prime Day, traditionally held in July, will usher in the holiday shopping season earlier than ever before.

With more people shopping online and the pandemic still a threat, retailers are finding ways to spread out online orders over the holiday season to not overwhelm their supply chain, and to get rid of inventory piled up from the beginning of the pandemic last winter.

“We know e-commerce is booming because of the virus and we know people will be shopping earlier online,” said Diana Smith, associate director of retail and apparel with the market research firm Mintel. “It’s going to be a truly digital holiday this year and we know these major retailers are going to win the season again and what they do has a major impact on how consumers will shop.”

When Prime Day first launched in 2015, it was a narrower Amazon-specific sales event. But with the growth in the Prime network, which now includes more than one million members, other retailers have started to offer their own online deals in an effort to take advantage of the overall online shopping spike that accompanies Prime Day.

Last year Amazon sold $7 billion worth of goods on Prime Day, according to eMarketer, a market research company. The firm expects sales to increase to $10 billion this year as many people remain wary of in-person shopping.

With Target and Walmart closing stores on Thanksgiving to protect workers, brick-and-mortar retailers are pressed to fully leverage their digital capabilities more than they had in previous years, according to retail analysts.

“This year what is amplifying the season for brick-and-mortar [retailers] is that there are going to be restrictions on how they can take advantage of physical Black Friday sales,” said Brad Loftus, the North America lead for the retail sector with Boston Consulting Group. “If all the stuff we buy goes through digital channels during a small window between November and December, there will be shipping constraints.”

To ease some of that strain, Best Buy told NBC News that it will leverage various online shopping tools such as expanded options to buy an item online and pick it up in a store or schedule an employee to walk the item to your car. About 40 percent of what Best Buy sells online is picked up in stores or through curbside pickup, Barry said.

“[Stores are] not just about shopping; it’s also about where they want to go to get that product,” Loftus said. ”The key is whether the customer wants to do it online whether they want to have it shipped the same day or next day, we just need to be ready to fulfill it for them.”

Retailers are remaining nimble with pricing and discounting to balance lighter inventory and shoppers’ appetite for a holiday deal, according to Deborah Weinswig, founder and CEO of Coresight Research. Businesses aren’t running steep discounts on typical holiday items like years in the past because many retailers scrambled to cancel winter inventory orders at the height of the pandemic in spring, she said.

“That’s why we’re predicting this holiday sales will be the biggest in the last decade,” he added. “We’re expecting it to be 5 percent greater than last year because more will be bought at less of a discount than we were expecting.”

Vice President of Amazon Prime Jamil Ghani told NBC News that he isn’t worried about the added competition on Prime Day.

“The fact that… everybody can find something is going to define Prime Day,” he said. “And that will be a kickoff to a season where folks will probably shop earlier [and] will be able to benefit from this range of discounts we’ll have.”

With the rise in e-commerce and Amazon’s sophisticated delivery network, retail analysts expect Prime Day to be bigger than expected.

Amy Carter, a 47-year old stay-at-home mother in North Carolina, told NBC News she is planning to shop Prime Day next week to buy clothes and bedding for her first grandchild. She said her husband has already been shopping for a Power Wheels ride-on vehicle. She’s been a discount shopper ever since she started making a living on her own as an adult.

“We’re not on a tight budget but it is mostly a fixed one,” said Amy, whose husband works in military equipment. “I look for deals to save money.”

She didn’t previously know that Target, Walmart and Best Buy were also running deal events. But she often price shops across retailers.

“To an extent, it doesn’t matter which retailer I buy from as long as the quality is there,” she said. “I’m just looking forward to seeing what deals are out there and what I can save.”