5 Reasons to Start Holiday Shopping

WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- Holiday shopping, Black Friday, store aisles lined with Christmas trees. Yep, sounds like July.

Listen, Toys R Us, we understand that the Consumer Confidence Index is dropping like December temperatures and slumping summer retail sales figures could use some a nice little song and dance from stop-motion anthropomorphic reindeer, but that was no reason to announce your "Christmas Saver's Club" holiday plan in June. Now you, Target ( TGT), Sears ( SHLD) and just about every other retailer still reeling from last month's 0.5% sales drop and the 1.2% plunge that preceded it in May are making merry and hoping to cash in on some early holiday spirit. At least we're spared the 24-hour Christmas music stations for the moment.

We can't blame these store for their holiday nostalgia, as sales last season rebounded 1.1%, to $446 billion, from the deluge of discounts that emptied revenue from retailers' stockings during the recession-rattled 2008 holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. But much as an iPad under the tree will delete any memory of talking to Aunt Gertie about her goiter surgery, Toys R Us and its ilk selectively recall the 23 million boost in Black Friday shoppers last year from 2008, but overlook the nearly 10% drop in their average spending.

Retailers also remember the 100 million consumers parked by their keyboards on Cyber Monday last year and a 7% spike in clothing sales, which is what leads them toward subjecting back-to-school shoppers to Whitney Houston's version of "Do You Hear What I Hear" and forcing a part-timer at a store in Savannah, Ga., to put on a Santa suit in August. Considering that these retailers will start holiday sales Jan. 1 if the economy continues on its current course, we at TheStreet believe this is a fine time to present our Top 5 holiday sales gimmicks... so far:

5. eLayaway: Perhaps the only retailer that can't be accused of holiday pandering at this point, eLayaway starts sales around this time because it has to. By offering pay-over-time gift cards to such partners as Home Depot ( HD), Best Buy ( BBY), Wal-Mart ( WMT) and Foot Locker ( FL), eLayway lets customers pay now to spend later. Its been a booming business, as founder Sergio Pinon said the company didn't have to market itself at all last holiday season while accepting pleas from desperate merchants. Sure, eLayaway also offers such products as Nintendo's Wii, Apple ( AAPL)'s iMac and MacBook and Sony's ( SNE) PlayStation 3, but why invest in a present that may be purchased or passé by the time the holiday arrives?

4. Amazon (AMZN) and Facebook: Amazon's not decking its "O" with a lighted wreath, and there aren't elf hats on people's Facebook avatars, but a deal announced between the two companies this week could take a lot of the guesswork out of shopping for friends and acquaintances. The deal makes friends' wish lists available for viewing once the accounts are connected and makes product recommendations based on information in their Facebook profiles. While Amazon kept Facebook's "Like" button off its detail pages, friends' product reviews will become more easily accessible. Start wailing about privacy all you want, but your mother who has no idea what you like anymore and your friends who've run out of gag gifts just got a little help this holiday season -- no thanks to you. Ingrate.

3. Toys R Us:The storefront posters of Santa with a surfboard and flip-flops featured in last week's "Christmas in July" sale -- which included holiday-style discounts on Disney ( DIS) Princess toys and Nintendo games, among other items -- were a bit much. The retailer's "Christmas Savers Club," which allows shoppers to put money onto a gift card through cash or credit card payments, is far more in the spirit of the season. Much like the bank Christmas clubs of a half-century ago, the Toys R Us card accumulates 3% interest as the holiday approaches. Laugh all you want at the shopper socking away $500 in June, but he or she will have spending power three Barbie dolls' greater than the consumer spending the same amount in July. That's just good parenting.

2. Target: Maybe if they could break through your glass doors and trample people for underpriced goods, consumers would be more enthusiastic about Black Friday in July. Target attempted to recapture some of that post-Thanksgiving spirit last week with an online sale featuring discounts on 500 items including -- stop us if this sounds familiar -- a $100 Blu-Ray player. It's maintaining a Black Friday 2010 page on its website, which leaves the shattered doors open for other such events future, but is funneling most of its holiday efforts into its debit and Visa ( V) credit REDcards. Starting in the fall, cardholders will get an automatic 5% discount off of their entire purchase when paying with either of the cards. While incremental, this seems much safer than wishing every day was Black Friday.

1. Sears and Kmart: When holiday shopping in July is not only condoned, but encouraged, someone's bound to cross the line. Enter Sears, whose revenues plummeted 5.8% in the past year and whose stock price soured by 42% in the past three months. Given that bleak backdrop, it's little wonder Sears felt like playing holiday music and lining its seasonal aisles last week with trees, ornaments and little light-up houses. The sale continued in the tchotchke-teeming "Christmas Lane" sections of Sears.com and Kmart.com, but Sears and Kmarts' biggest present for consumers is a "Christmas Club" card offering 3% interest (up to $100) for would-be Santa's looking to save now. So between the midsummer sales and the savings clubs, consumers get the privilege of spending twice? It's a holiday miracle!

-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.

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