Holidays starting early for retailers

Temperatures are beachside-balmy. Most Americans haven’t thought about their Halloween costumes. Parents are still in back-to-school mode.

But retailers already have visions of profit dancing in their heads.

Kmart aired its first holiday ad last week, starring a gingerbread man touting the store’s layaway program. Wal-Mart and Toys R Us have publicized lists of their hot holiday toys.

This year, Christmas Creep goes turbo.

Retailers are starting the holiday season earlier than ever to lure elusive shoppers. The holiday shopping season accounts for roughly 20 percent of all annual retail activity, and last year’s was only lukewarm.

Since then, merchants have been bedeviled by waffling consumer confidence — a product of economic pressure from fleeting jobs, higher payroll taxes and expensive gasoline — and a persistent frugality inherited from the recession.

Janney Capital Markets analyst Adrienne Tennant wrote in a report Monday that September has been underwhelming for retailers so far, with a lack of newness in fashion apparel offerings likely to limit sales through the fall.

“We believe the back-to-school season has been below expectations and implies a weak holiday,” she predicted.

A report Tuesday from analytics firm ShopperTrak predicts that visits to stores will decrease 1.4 percent year-over-year this holiday season, although sales will rise 2.4 percent.

“Nobody can afford to procrastinate,” said Bill Martin, ShopperTrak’s founder.

This year, there are only 25 days between Christmas and Black Friday on Nov. 29 — the day when many retailers have historically used door-buster deals to kick off the holiday shopping season.

Last year, the period was 32 days long. There were five full weekends to buy presents, instead of the four weekends available this year.

ShopperTrak expects promotions to begin as early as the day after Halloween.

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