It's called Black Friday and at one time was considered to be the day retailers reached a point of profitability for the year.
While the idea of reaching profit on the day after Thanksgiving is mostly a myth, many retailers have already been pulling out the stops with price cuts and promotions that are generally reserved for the busy shopping day.
"Black Friday gets a lot of focus because of the sheer volume of people who go out, but the largest shopping usually takes place on the last weekend before Christmas," said Roger Tutterow, a Georgia economist.
"This year, when you look at consumer confidence or you look at retail sales in the last couple of months, it's reasonable to expect this to be a soft holiday season. Most retailers understand this and were very conservative in terms of stocking the shelves."
The bargain hunters showing up for the early morning specials on toys and TVs are not expected to buy with the same gusto as a year ago as they fret about tightening credit, massive layoffs and shrinking retirement funds.
This year is also complicated because the marketplace is absent of must-have items, even in toys.
Some retailers are not waiting on Black Friday to begin the major markdowns.
Drugstore chain CVS Caremark Corp., which has six stores in Hall County, will launch a weeklong Black Friday promotion beginning today, offering early morning deals on items ranging from GPS devices to digital photo frames.
But Black Friday may not be enough to help retailers who are in a second month of declining sales at a time when cash registers are generally ringing.
After reporting the worst October sales in at least 39 years, stores are seeing more weak sales in November, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs Index, which measures sales at stores opened at least a year.
"Black Friday is going to have some very impressive deals, but overall the deals won't be any better than what you saw before," despite all the hype, said Dan de Grandpre, founder and editor-in-chief of dealnews.com. "Retailers have already given their best shots already."
Another factor, according to Mercer University's Tutterow, is the availability of credit.
"The underwriters on credit cards are concerned about defaults, so they have been less willing to extend credit lines beyond where they were already set," he said. "Also in the past, consumers used their home equity lines to pay for holiday shopping or pay down their credit cards. That's not going to happen this year."
The Thanksgiving shopping weekend, from Friday through Sunday, accounted for about 10.1 percent of overall holiday sales last year, according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp. Bill Martin, ShopperTrak's co-founder, declined to offer estimates for the day this year, but said he believes that even though shoppers will be deliberate in their spending it will remain the biggest selling day of the season.
Ken Hicks, J.C. Penney Co.'s chief merchandising officer and president, said that he is anticipating a big sales day, but that's still in line with modest expectations for the season.
A survey of 100 chief merchandising officers at leading retailers found that they expect Black Friday sales to rise 1.2 percent this year, below the 8.3 percent growth seen a year ago. Online sales, whose growth has dramatically slowed since September, will also experience slowing growth
Kohl's Corp., which operates two stores in Hall County, is opening its doors at 4 a.m. and plans to offer discounts of 40 percent to 50 percent on a wider range of brands, including its priciest fashion labels like Simply Vera by Vera Wang.
J.C. Penney, which has a store at Lakeshore Mall, is pushing more affordable gifts such as the $49.99 My Sports Gaming System - which the company is pitching as a cheaper alternative to the Nintendo Wii - and said it will have 20 percent more early morning discounts on Black Friday than a year ago. My Sports Gaming System will be marked down to $38.88 on the day after Thanksgiving.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.