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Is It Too Early to Start the 2011 Holiday Shopping Season?

Black Friday once meant something, but now the holiday shopping season is a free for all as retailers scramble for business

No. Your calendar is correct and you didn't accidentally sleep for a month. The World Series hasn't started, and it's not even Halloween yet, and here we are talking about the 2011 holiday shopping season. Too soon?

I remember the good old days when Black Friday meant something. It wasn't just another day in a long series of days promising super extra awesome special bargains. It was a science. It was a sporting event. There really were deals to be found and it required careful planning and precision strategy...and warm clothes and lots of coffee.

But, Black Friday has been hijacked. Retailers continue to one-up each other with earlier and earlier "Black Friday" sales launches that now encroach on Thanksgiving Thursday. Then they added Cyber Monday, and retailers started having weekend sales every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas with ever-escalating deals.

Last year, American Express launched its own holiday season bargain day targeting local small businesses. Small Business Saturday is the day after Black Friday and is designed to help independently-owned businesses in this tough economy.

This year Google, Facebook, and Twitter are jumping on board to support Small Business Saturday with free advertising credits small businesses can use to promote their deals online across the popular social networks. Interested businesses can get more information and promotional tools by visiting and "Liking" http://www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday.

Small Business Saturday might be too little, too late, though. In a recent survey, 38 percent of small business owners stated that we are still in a recession, and many feel we are at risk of reversing course and entering a double-dip recession. With the weak economy and high unemployment, retailers will have to fight hard for every dollar of holiday spending money they can get.

It would be a mistake to enter a race to the bottom where you slash prices and undercut the competition--offering goods and services so ridiculously cheap that you sell a bunch and yet still lose money. The goal is to attract customers and business that makes the business profitable.

To that end, it helps to start earlier. Early in the holiday shopping season some consumers are more likely to jump on a deal just to make sure they get a deal on something. The closer you get to Christmas, the more competition you will have, and the more drastic bargains you will have to contend with.

The real trump card--and the value of what Google, Facebook, and Twitter are bringing to the table for Small Business Saturday--is in promoting your deals more creatively. The survey of small business owners found that 58 percent plan to use social media to attract new customers.

It is probably too early to aggressively market 2011 holiday shopping season promotions. But, it is not too early to get familiar with the tools and start to develop a social media presence and strategy so you are prepared to take advantage and catch the attention of consumers when the time comes.

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