Ready or not, Walmart says holiday shopping season is already here

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(CBS News)- Like it or not, it’s time to start shopping for holiday gifts, says Walmart, the nation’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer, and its No. 2 e-tailer, too. 

Walmart will kick off its holiday shopping season on Friday, October 25, at midnight E.T., to give consumers a head start on their holiday shopping — during a year in which the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the usual holiday shopping season, is six days shorter than it was last year. This is the earliest Walmart has kicked off the season.

Its “Early Deals Drop” on on Friday will include discounts on electronics, toys, sporting goods and more. “Saving our customers time is also paramount at this time of year, especially with fewer days to get ready for big family meals, parties and gift-giving,” said Steve Bratspies, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S.

Deals include a $99 trampoline and a smart TV for $398. The retailer will also offer free next-day delivery on select items, without a membership fee. 

Other big retailers are making similar offers to compete for customers over the holidays. Best Buy has said it will offer free next-day delivery on orders over $35 as well as free standard shipping over the holidays. This marks the first time the electronic goods chain has offered free next-day delivery in a bid to win over shoppers. 

But customers don’t always bite at these kinds of offers, research shows. Just 15% of shoppers said fast shipping is more important than free shipping, according to a holiday survey from consultancy Deloitte

The study, released Tuesday, shows that Americans, on average, are expected to spend nearly $1,500 per household this year, up almost 5% from last year. Total e-commerce sales in the U.S. are expected to grow by up to 18% this year. 

As more Americans shop online, many retailers have ramped up efforts to draw shoppers to physical stores by offering better in-store experiences, dubbed by some as “retailtainment.” 

Walmart says it will host Pokémon and Star Wars-themed events in-store around the holidays in addition to the requisite visits from Santa. 

Despite Walmart’s head start, holiday spending won’t peak until early December, versus its usual crest around Thanksgiving, Deloitte predicts. Thanksgiving is unusually late, with Black Friday falling on November 29 and Cyber Monday on December 2. Nearly 70% of consumers say they’ll start shopping in early December. 

Still those shoppers who start early tend to spend more — $1,6660 versus $1,239 — according to Deloitte, and Walmart hopes to claim some of that spend.

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