FRESNO, Calif. -- The always-hectic Black Friday could be even more frantic this year.
Cash-strapped shoppers are eager to save money. Retailers are desperate to bring it in. And this year's traditional day-after-Thanksgiving kickoff to the holiday shopping season is starting earlier than ever.
Shopper loyalty means little this year, because people have a limited amount of money to spend.
"Everything takes a back seat to price this year," said National Retail Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis. "There will be never-before-seen deals this Friday as retailers compete with every other retailer."
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Although Black Friday is not the biggest shopping day of the year -- that honor usually goes to the Saturday before Christmas -- the number of people who plan to start their holiday shopping on that day this year is up by 6 percent over last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
And since recession-battered shoppers have restrained their spending throughout the year, "there's a good chance consumers have a little bit of pent-up demand and are eager to head into Black Friday," Grannis said.
But all that enthusiasm won't necessarily translate into more dollars spent.
Two-thirds of shoppers surveyed by Ohio-based BIGresearch say the economy has affected their holiday plans. All shoppers are expected to spend 3.2 percent less this year, down to an average of $682.74.
In the battle to get at those dollars first, some retailers, including Target and Toys "R" Us, are opening earlier this year at selected locations.
And all Walmart stores will stay open all Thursday night -- normally only the Supercenters keep those hours -- with Black Friday deals beginning at 5 a.m. Friday morning.
Some retailers also are changing when they release their Black Friday deals. In years past, they tried to keep sales secret until Thanksgiving Day ads, only to have them leaked through sites such as www.BlackFriday.info.
This year, some retailers are pre-empting those sites. They are posting the day's discounts on their websites early.
Many stores also have broken tradition by offering Black Friday discounts before Friday.
Sears began its "Black Friday Now" deals the Saturday after Halloween. Weekly ads promote deals like 50 percent off tool sets offered only between 7 a.m. and noon Saturdays, said Susan Johnson, general manager of the Sears in Sierra Vista, Calif.
"We've had people in at seven o'clock in the morning looking for those items," she said. "For a normal Saturday morning, it's a good crowd."
The retailer also offers a "deal of the day" in store and online, and it's catching on with consumers.
Target, Best Buy and Kmart -- which has had "Better than Black Friday" sales on recent Fridays -- and others are offering more sales early.
Walmart expanded its 10 toys for $10 program from last year to 100 toys in October. And Walmart, Amazon.com and Target have repeatedly outdone each other dropping prices on books since late October.