It might be May, but many shoppers already have Black Friday on their minds.
With 191 days left until the actual day, big retailers are finalizing doorbusters right now, online aggregators are watching for early news leaks and some stores are already hosting events under the banner of Black Friday.
Welcome to the new shopping paradigm, where Black Friday has become synonymous with "sale."
But are the deals at this time of year good enough to trigger a rush to buy? Or is it all just marketing hype, wrapped up in a pretty bow?
Last year, Black Friday began earlier than ever. There were Christmas in July sales and media coverage began in earnest by August. By the time Black Friday actually rolled around, the entire event seemed a let-down to many.
But Black Friday burnout hasn't yet set in for 2011, and as the recession drags on and gas prices rise, the thirst for great deals only grows. Retailers are answering the call.
"American merchants have become addicted to the sale, like heroin," says Paco Underhill, author and CEO of Envirosell Consulting. Underhill wrote the seminal book about shopping patterns and retail psychology, Why We Buy and What Women Want.
He adds that the rush to lower prices and advertise extreme sales is hurting retailers. The more stores engage in price competition, the more it undermines the consumer's perception of the value of the goods.
And in the long run, it may be hurting shoppers too. The problem? Limited availability of sale items. Shoppers used to practice the strategy of waiting for a coveted item to fall to the lowest price, often at the end of a season.
But in the not too distant future, "if you see something and you like it, you better buy or it might be gone," warns Underhill.
Today is not that day, though. Sales are already getting started. Home Depot is already promising more Black Friday in Spring events. Just watch the retailer's site, Facebook page and Twitter for announcements. Amazon has begun highlighting sale items and calling the aggregations a Cyber Monday sale. That's the online-only retailer's equivalent of Black Friday. Right now, there's a selection of TVs, both new and used, listed under the header.
Also expect to see retailers, primarily specialty retailers, using the term "Black Friday" to drive up interest around seasonal events particular to their retail sectors.
It used to be that events like graduation, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July were enough to promote sales events, but now they just offer an opportunity for retailers to slap the words "Black Friday" on their advertising to generate interest.
"I think somebody's reaching into their tool box here and taking tools meant for something else to see if it will work," says Underhill. "Every time you abuse or overuse a marketing tool, it gets rusty."
Consumers should beware. The Black Friday or Cyber Monday monikers in the off-season are marketing ruses. In the absence of competitive sales, the pricing is less than ideal and a far cry from the actual Black Friday.