NEW YORK (AP) -- On the day after Thanksgiving, customers en route to Macy's Herald Square in New York will be greeted by the oft-frenetic Richard Simmons, handing out samples of Ocean Spray's energy juice drink.
But will customers - faced with shrinking retirement funds and job worries - have the thirst to shop? There's some worry that because of the deteriorating economy, shoppers won't turn out on Nov. 28 with the same degree of deal-hunting fervor as they have in years past on the day known as Black Friday.
The day may also be losing its cache. Many stores have pushed up aggressive sales that were typically reserved for the day after Thanksgiving as they desperately try to pull shoppers in.
For the first time, Kmart has already started offering products at what it calls "Black Friday prices." Target Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys "R" Us are offering weekly price cuts on featured items. In addition, Toys "R" Us will open all of its stores early this weekend and offer discounts for early risers as part of a "Mega sale."
"Black Friday this year is going to be gray; it's not going to be black," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group. "Because it's been such a promotional year, Black Friday is going to be like another busy weekend for the consumer."
As in years past years, malls are extending hours and stores like Steve Madden will offer scratch cards with discounts of up to 50 percent off. Upscale accessories retailer Coach Inc. will open 85 of its factory stores at midnight for Black Friday, 14 more than last year.
But how consumers will react remains to be seen.
Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, said that while she does expect more staggered discounts throughout the season, consumers are still likely to turn out on the true Black Friday.
"Consumers are used to discounts they're seeing now, but they're not going to let retailers get off that easy, because Black Friday is the 'day of all days' for discounts," she said. "There seems to be a lot of pent-up demand this year with consumers who may have held off on buying that winter coat or DVD player over the last couple of months."
For the bargain hunter, Web offers plenty of online tools
MILWAUKEE (AP) - With the economy slumping and retailers already discounting their holiday gifts, this year is ripe for bargain hunting. And there are plenty of online tools to help.
"Consumers are going to have to be cyber savvy this holiday season and shop smarter to get the best deals," said Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, a Web site that released a list of helpful shopping sites.
Here's a look:
-DealAlerter.com: This site, run by Consumer World, lets you shop for thousands of products, like electronics, clothing and kitchen wares, and allows you to set price alerts so you know when it's offered at the price you want to pay. It also compares prices across several Web sites so you can buy the product now, or wait to be notified via e-mail if the price drops.
-SundaySaver.com and SalesCircular.com: Miss the Sunday circular in the newspaper? These sites let you search through circulars by store or by your region, across various retailers.
-PriceSpider: The site searches hundreds of stores for electronic items like DVD players and flat-screen TVs and shows you a chart of its price history, along with reviews and links to retailers.
-FatWallet.com and SlickDeals.net: These sites offer forums, coupons and links to deals that may not be widely advertised.
-Shipgooder.com: Bought your gifts and want to send them? This site compares shipping rates from major carriers like the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx and UPS. Just plug in your zip codes and how much your package weighs and it'll help you find the best deal.