Bargains at the big retailers

By Consumer ReportsLifestyle and BudgetConsumer Reports

It may seem that Christmas came early for retailers this year. Most forecasts are predicting that the holiday shopping season wil be one of the strongest in years. Annual sales will increase by 4.1 percent over the 2013 holiday season sales, according to the ever-optimistic National Retail Federation.

But that doesn't mean retailers will be stingy with their sales and loss-leading enticements. Walk-in stores are still feeling the heat from online merchants, who are expected to generate more than 10 percent of total holiday sales this year. Their strategy to combat Amazon and other online retailers is two-pronged: Fight fire with fire, and jump-the-gun.

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Read about what to get and forget at WalmartCostcoTarget, and Sears now and all year long.

In the can't-beat-'em-join-'em camp is Target. Still singed from last year's credit card breach, Target is offering free shipping on all of its online offerings now through Dec. 20 (free in-store pickup is so 2013). And Target will match the price of qualifying items with those of major competitors, including Amazon.

Meanwhile, as we reported earlier this week, other stores such as Sam's Club and Walmart have already started pre-Black Friday deals. And of course Amazon isn't standling by idly; the online giant is offering a rotating selection of early holiday season offerings.

Generally these early deals have been underwhelming, and most of the time you'll find better offers by waiting until after Thanksgiving. Perhaps we'll cut the store some slack this year. A quirk of the calendar makes 2014 one of the shortest holiday shopping seasons possible. Between Black Friday (November 28) and Christmas Eve, consumers will have only 25 days to complete their shopping this year. We'll leave it to you to decide if that's a blessing or a curse.

—Chris Horymski

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