By Laura Heller, dealnews writer; contributions from Lindsay Sakraida Merchants seem to think it a great marketing tactic to kick-start the Black Friday madness earlier and earlier each year; some stores are battling it out for the earliest time for open doors, while others are already claiming to offer Black Friday deals. Forbes noted that, "November 1st now seems to be the unofficial Black Friday selling season." So are we poised to see a very Black November, or are these sales pure marketing hype? That depends. We've largely been spared of the "Better than Black Friday" verbiage, which has rarely proven to be true (unless the Black Friday they're comparing to is from several years ago). Few stores that offer early Black Friday sales claim to be better than the holiday itself... but these stores do imply that their deals are at least above average. But are they? Price Checking a Few Early Sales Amazon, the retailer that topped our Black Friday retailers list this year, has also begun a Countdown to Black Friday Sale to promote its deals. Since Amazon is one of the best-known merchants for stellar deals during Black Friday weekend, you'd think these early offerings would also be special. For the most part, however, the deals are lukewarm. There's the Panasonic 50" 600Hz 1080p 3D Widescreen Plasma HD Television (pictured), which was discounted yesterday to $829 — $9 more than a deal from a few days ago, which also included a Blu-ray player. (It should be noted though that prior to the $820 deal, the Amazon offer would have been an all-time low.) Beyond that are several items that aren't current price lows, and several of electronics appear to be Amazon-only models. The cameras are particularly skippable, with many either at an adjusted list price that multiple stores regularly offer, or they're not priced lower than average. MacMall, too, has been offering Pre-Black Friday Sales on Apple products that don't amount to much, including a deal on the Apple iMac Core i5 Quad 2.5GHz 21.5" Desktop for $1,120.43. While tied with B&H for the lowest total price currently available, it's actually higher than the price we saw for this system in September. Through the Humdrum Comes a Great Sale Even though most of the early Black Friday sales are fairly mediocre, there's evidence that the Black Friday moniker might still indicate an occasional solid deal early on. Lowe's released several Black Friday Sneak Peeks, including numerous appliance deals that our staff deemed Editors' Choice caliber. The hardware giant is "throwing down," offering refrigerators, ovens, and dishwashers for several hundred dollars below other stores, suggesting there might be unexpected life to the early offers — if you shop carefully. Are Shoppers Leery of Early Black Friday Sales? There have been worries that shoppers are burnt out on early seasonal shifts: that May is too early for back-to-school merchandise or that there may be a revolt against holiday sales pre-Halloween. And while those worries may be well founded, retailers still aim to finish out the year in the black. That is, after all, how the term Black Friday came to be — named for the day after Thanksgiving when retailers began to sell holiday and gift merchandise in earnest, and balance sheets shifted from the red (losses) to black (profit). But many consumers are being very selective in what they buy and are shopping on a tight "need to own" basis. The National Retail Federation's annual shopper survey also reveals a still-frugal consumer mentality. Some analysts speculate that spending this season will be flat at best, but will most likely trend down a bit over last year. "Families aren't opposed to spending on what they need, but parents want their children to take a good look around at what they already have before deciding what to buy..." said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "Retailers understand consumers are extremely focused on value and are taking this opportunity to offer substantial savings on merchandise." So, we ask, are consumers buying into these early Black Friday offers? Have you found a great deal at one of the early Black Friday sales? Front page photo credit: Saving Dollars and Sense Laura Heller is a freelance writer based in Chicago who specializes in mass market retail trends and consumer electronics industries. You can follow her on Twitter @lfheller. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.