NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
The discount wars have begun and retailers are digging deep to pull in the crucial holiday shoppers.
It's still six weeks until Christmas, but department store chains J.C. Penney, Sears and Kohl's slashed prices by as much as 50 percent storewide this past weekend.
More good news for consumers: Industry watchers say the price cuts could keep coming.
Penney department stores nationwide greeted shoppers with bright, bold banners that screamed "The biggest sale of them all!" The retailer offered 50 percent storewide savings on everything from clothes, shoes, jewelry, home decoration items and a lot more during the four-day event that ended Monday.
Not to be outdone, rival department store chains Kohl's (Research) and Sears (Research) unveiled their own juicy promotions over the weekend.
"J.C. Penney will probably be the most promotional store this year, similar to last year, and they'll probably have a good Christmas because of it," said Britt Beemer, senior analyst with market research firm America's Research Group.
"The next few weeks until Thanksgiving is a very important time for us and it's also a heavily promotional period," said Penney (Research) spokesman Tim Lyons. "We'll continue to have more mid-week and weekend sales similar to this past weekend."
Lyons would not offer specific details about subsequent sales, citing competitive reasons. However, he did say shoppers should expect more blockbuster price cuts closer to Christmas.
At Kohl's, shoppers can enjoy up to 50 percent off on all merchandise until Nov. 10. The "Get ready for the holidays" campaign at Sears, which ends on Nov. 13, also offers up to 50 percent off on jewelry, clothes, toys, lawn and garden products and home-related merchandise.
"We're in the game now," said Chris Brathwaite, spokesman for Sears. "Obviously we don't want to tip off our competitors, but yes, the season will grow more promotional as we get further along."
In addition to the deep discounts, Penney is hoping to please harried shoppers with its gift displays that conveniently showcase a variety of ready-to-buy baskets containing perfume, skincare products, jewelry and other items.
Last year, shoppers missed out on the big bargains and bought seasonal merchandise that was near full price because retailers kept a tight rein on inventories heading into the all-important fourth quarter. The combined months of November and December can account for as much as 50 percent of sales and profits at many chains.
Some industry watchers say they do anticipate heavier holiday discounts this year. However, others say it's still early in the game to tell if retailers will choose to risk profits over sales.
"The big weekend sales at Penney, Kohl's and Sears does indicate that retailers want to get a jump on the season," said Michael Niemira, chief economist and director of research with the International Council of Shopping Centers.
"Whether or not the level of promotions is more or less than last year it still a little too early to tell," he added. "What could happen is merchants get overly promotional ahead of Black Friday because that builds up a cushion for them in November."
Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) marks the official start of the holiday gift-buying frenzy. It gets its name from the hope that on that day merchants' financial statements will move out of the red and into the black.
Added Niemira, "If November sales are good and inventory is under control, that takes some of the sales pressure off in December."
"I think retailers will hold prices up to 40 percent off before Christmas and then go even deeper in January to clear inventory," said Beemer. "No doubt, heavy discounts help sales but they hurt profits. And retailers, more than ever, know that they have to answer to Wall Street and not Main Street."