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Thanksgiving Kicks Off an Estimated $586 Billion Holiday Shopping Season

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Plus, the price of Thanksgiving dinner stays relatively flat.

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MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL In two days, many Americans will be eating turkey with the fixings and watching football. Thanksgiving has historically preceded Black Friday, when consumers' voracious appetites move from the dinner table to the shopping malls.

Thanksgiving Is the New Black...Friday

For many years, the holiday shopping frenzy started on the day after Thanksgiving, dubbed Black Friday. Recently, retailers have been taking an ever-larger slice out of Thursday. According to CNN, this year shopping will start earliest at Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Toys R Us, who open their doors at 8 p.m. local time -- earlier than they opened last year. Target (NYSE:TGT) opens at 9 p.m.

About.com provides a long list of retail stores that will also be open on Thanksgiving, many which will remain open all night and into Black Friday. Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD), The Gap (NYSE:GPS), Aeropostale (NYSE:ARO), Chico's (NYSE:CHS), Nike (NYSE:NKE), Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), and Sony (NYSE:SNE) are among many stores that will have retail locations open at 9 p.m. on Thursday. Others like Crocs (NASDAQ:CROX), Tumi (NYSE:TUMI), Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (NASDAQ:RMCF), and Hot Topic (NASDAQ:HOTT) will raise their shutters at 10 p.m.

And what will consumers be buying as gifts for this year's holiday season?

Toys R Us's yearly Fabulous 15 list highlights the spending season's hottest toys. Among them are Nintendo's (PINK:NTDOY) Wii U, LeapFrog's (NYSE:LF) LeapPad2 Explorer, Mattel's (NASDAQ:MAT) Fisher-Price Jake and the Never Land Pirates Jake's Musical Pirate Ship Bucky, and Hasbro's (NASDAQ:HAS) revamped Furby doll.

(Are you as terrified about the return of Furby as I am? Learn all you can in The Most Annoying Toy of All Time Is Back!)

Time points out that two-thirds of the items on this list were priced above $50, with seven toys over $100. Most of the items on Wal-Mart's top toy list are above $50 as well.

One particularly interesting item on this list is the Tabeo, a 7-inch tablet developed by Toys R US specially for kids. Tabeo runs Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android OS, is preloaded with popular games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rug, and -- with a $159 price-tag -- it offers parents a fiscally less risky option than letting their small children play with their $330 Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad Minis.

Moving to grown-ups, let's take a look at Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) list of the most popular products ordered as gifts to see what will be stuffing this season's stockings. Amazon's own Kindle Fire HD is the most ordered item on the online shopping hub's electronics list, followed by Kindle Paperwhite, a product that has been plagued since its September release by shipping delays.

Online retailers have inevitably changed the nature of holiday shopping, as noted by AOL Daily Finance. Back in 2005, Shop.org, the e-commerce branch of the National Retail Federation, branded the start of the week following Black Friday as Cyber Monday. The online marketplace for holiday shopping thus became a lucrative venue for retailers -- so much so that this year, as more consumers are expected to do their Christmas shopping online, more retailers are offering the same Thanksgiving Thursday and Black Friday in-store deals simultaneously online.

Amazon has been running what it calls the Black Friday Deal Week, which offers "lightning" deals throughout the days leading up to and through Thanksgiving. And if avoiding crazed crowds isn't enough of a reason to stay out of the malls and shop online, then Amazon's price advantage certainly should be. In a Bloomberg analysis of 125 randomly chosen toys, Amazon had the better deals, with 44% of the items cheaper than at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had a price advantage on 13% of the items, while the remaining toys cost the same between the two. Wal-Mart was, however, winner over other in-store retailers, with 80% of these toys costing less than at Kmart, Target, and even Toys R Us.

Interestingly, the amount individual consumers will spend on the holiday season this year will remain relatively flat when compared to last year. The National Retail Federation reports that holiday shoppers will spend on average $749.51 on the season this year, up merely $9 from 2011.

The NRF projects that holiday spending will increase over 4.1% to $586.1 billion, higher than the 10-year-average growth of 3.5%, but below 2011's actual spending, which grew 5.6% from the previous year. If these projections are correct, holiday spending growth has contracted, albeit slightly.

Thanksgiving Dinner as an Economic Indicator

The US Farm Bureau has released an annual informal price survey of a Thanksgiving Day dinner for the past 27 years. This year, a 10-person meal including a 16-pound turkey and all the fixings will cost, on average, $49.48. It's a nominal, less-than-1% bump from the cost of last year's meal -- $49.20 -- as reported by the the US Farm Bureau's news page The Voice of Agriculture.



Although there were price hikes affecting turkey, coffee, onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk, and butter, these were offset by falling prices for whipping cream, cubed bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, whole milk, fresh cranberries, green peas, pumpkin pie mix, and pie shells.

This year's increase is a far-cry from the 13%, or $5.73, jump seen from 2010 to 2011, the largest recorded increase in the cost of Thanksgiving dinner since 1986.

It seems that this year, Thanksgiving dinner is inflation proof.

Twitter: @brokawbrokaw
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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