Wal-Mart Stores is pulling back on the Black Friday frenzy this year.
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Instead of stretching the event over about five days as the retailer did last year, Wal-Mart will offer deep discounts on gift items like TVs, DVDs and pajamas starting at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving at its stores until they are gone. The retailer plans to offer longer term, though less drastic, discounts through the holiday season. When deeply discounted so called "door-buster" products are promoted for multiple days, consumers are confused about the best time to shop, said Steve Bratspies, the company's new chief merchandising officer, at a press event inside a Wal-Mart in New Jersey on Wednesday. "They want simple," he said. Wal-Mart will offer most Black Friday deals online first, starting early on Nov. 26, Thanksgiving. Last year too Wal-Mart opened its stores at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, but stretched its door-buster deals over five days. Executives, at the time, said shoppers no longer wanted to deal with the stress of a single day of deals. The shift reflects an increasingly delicate balance many retailers are navigating around the holidays -- how to give shoppers the feeling that they should buy quickly to grab deals, while also offering enticing promotions anytime a customer happens to shop in a store or online for gifts. Adding pressure on retailers to get it right, shoppers tend to spend most in the first store they shop for gifts, likely drawn by a big deal on a high-ticket item, retail consultants said. Black Friday deals, typically, can lure such shoppers. But Black Friday sales have continued to shrink as a percentage of total holiday sales, according to research from AlixPartners LLP, a consulting firm. About 40% of shoppers say they start buying gifts before Halloween, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation. Black Friday "still packs a powerful punch. However, with so many stores open on Thanksgiving, promotions starting earlier and running longer, and other factors, retailers are seeing an overall erosion in Black Friday sales," said the consultancy in a research report. Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon.com started offering discounts on products that are popular gifts in early November this year. To offer these longer term deals, Wal-Mart bought more inventory than usual of popular gifts like TVs, videogames and toys, executives said. "We bought deeper than we have in the past," said Mr. Bratspies during the press event. It is a risky approach to take at a time when many retailers are complaining that slower than expected fall sales have left them with unsold merchandise heading into the holiday season. Macy's said on Wednesday that unseasonably warm weather kept shoppers from buying cold weather goods like sweaters and coats, leading to a sharp drop in quarterly sales, sending its stock down 14% for the day.