It started with Christmas creep. Now no shopping holiday is safe from retailers' attempts to stretch sales -- not even wholly invented ones like Amazon's "Prime Day."
The heavily promoted day of discounts limited to customers in Amazon's Prime membership program, first held in 2015 to commemorate the company's 20th anniversary, returns this year on Tuesday.
At least, July 11 is the official date. The "day" of deals now stretches to 30 hours, with promotions starting at 8 p.m. Monday, July 10.
Customers who own a speaker or tablet with the company's voice-activated assistant, Alexa, get even earlier access. More than 100 deals only available to voice shoppers were made available starting Wednesday -- nearly a week before Prime Day, Amazon said. Alexa shoppers also can get Prime Day prices two hours before other Amazon customers.
It's a pattern familiar to anyone who's complained about Halloween merchandise showing up on store shelves in summertime and mall Santas making appearances mid-November.
J.C. Penney ran "Pre Black Friday" deals throughout November last year, while Walmart got a jump on Cyber Monday and started those deals on Black Friday.
But Amazon's motivations are likely a little different, said Ryne Misso, marketing director at Chicago-based Market Track.
The first Prime Day drew mixed reviews -- there were lots of deals, but some customers found them tough to sift through and were frustrated when more desirable offers sold out fast. "It wasn't the Christmas in July consumers hoped it would be," he said.
The early deals and bigger advertising push in advance of this year's event are a way to teach customers how to take advantage of the sales and encourage them to sign up for a membership before the clock starts ticking on the deals, Misso said.
Prime Day's mid-July date was no accident -- hooking customers as Prime members in midsummer makes it easier for them to turn to Amazon for back-to-school and holiday shopping, Misso said.
The event does seem to be catching on, even though Market Track's data suggests Amazon's discounts are usually bigger on Black Friday.
About 58 percent of consumers surveyed by Market Track said they plan to shop Prime Day sales this year, while only 34 percent said they participated last year.
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