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Thanksgiving shopping season gets head start

U.S. holiday shopping season crept earlier as retailers lured shoppers to stores and online ahead of the traditional day after Thanksgiving kick-off.

For the second year in a row, CompUSA Inc. opened its doors on the Thanksgiving holiday, with stores scheduled to open at 9 p.m., except in Massachusetts where local laws preclude holiday hours. CompUSA also added an extra incentive for consumers this year by providing pumpkin pie for those in line.

Iconic toy store FAO Schwarz - with locations in New York, Chicago and Las Vegas - opened its doors on the holiday as well. Store hours for the three locations were 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In the past, holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day was limited to discount stores like Kmart and Wal-Mart, as well as grocery retailers and 24-hour convenience stores like 7-Eleven Inc. Kmart, operated by Sears Holdings Corp., is taking it one step further, offering for the first time Thanksgiving Day specials on TVs to GPS systems.

"Some people just can't wait until Friday," said Kirsten Whipple, a Sears spokeswoman. "Thanksgiving dinner is done and they have moved on." Kmart's special Thanksgiving deals include an Olevia 32-inch LCD HDTV for $419.99 and a Magellan GPS system for $129.99.

Dozens of shoppers at Kmart in Raleigh, North Carolina, were met with doughnuts and coffee as early as 7 a.m., and when the store opened, they quickly cleared the shelves of top-selling items: Nintendo's Wii, selling for $249.99; the Magellan Maestro 3100 Navigation System for $129.99 and 32-inch Olevia LCD television for $419.99.

Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, said the Thanksgiving openings may be a way of generating early enthusiasm ahead of a holiday season that is widely expected to be sluggish. Still, she said, no matter how stiff the competition is, for those new in the game, opening on Thanksgiving is still considered a tough decision when weighing employee time off and other factors.

"I think at this point Thanksgiving is still very revered in the retail industry," Davis said.

Web shopping is a different matter. More retailers are pushing shoppers to buy online on Thanksgiving, instead of just researching deals for the next day, nicknamed Black Friday because it was traditionally when stores became profitable.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which last year offered one or two online specials on Thanksgiving, is offering specials on 20 to 30 products online. CompUSA.com is featuring one-day, online-only sales on Thanksgiving - on products including computers, LCD flat-panel TVs and portable DVD players - and free shipping on certain items.

Amazon.com Inc. held a poll to allow visitors to vote for items they want to see drastically discounted beginning Thursday. The Web site also is offering shipping incentives and other deals spanning the weekend.

Toys "R" Us' site and eToys.com are both featuring a slew of online specials just for Thanksgiving. Toysrus.com is featuring up to 65 percent savings on everything from Matchbox cars to Spider-Man 3 interactive figures, while eToys.com is offering up to 60 percent off on select items.

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