It’s only October, but holiday shopping promotions are here with retailers bringing out the Christmas trees, turning on the holiday music and dangling sales from now until January.
This month alone, there’s Target’s (TGT) “Deal Days,” Walmart’s (WMT) “Rollbacks and More,” Best Buy’s (BBY) “Flash Sale” and a new Amazon (AMZN) Prime Day-like event. Soon will come way-too-early Black Friday promotions weeks before the actual shopping holiday, then the December-long sales events and post-holiday clearance deals.
Navigating all those sales can be confusing for customers.
And that’s even more true this year, with chains highly incentivized to offer promotions this holiday given that they have excess inventory and inflation is hitting customers’ wallets.
Adobe is predicting nearly a third of online merchandise across all categories will be marked down. The company uses a combination of historical pricing trends, its monthly online pricing index and changes in prices leading up to the holidays to forecast discounts for the season.
Shopping smart may feel more challenging in this environment, but retail analysts and researchers have tips for deciding when and what to buy.
Check the price history
First, a tip across all categories: Evidence suggests some consumers tend to think a promotion means a big drop in price, so they react and buy without determining the true typical price. Sometimes stores will increase prices on a product briefly before putting it on “sale.”
“Just because it’s a sale doesn’t mean it’s a good sale,” said Edgar Dworsky, a consumer advocate who founded ConsumerWorld.org, a resource for shoppers.
Dworsky and others recommend using websites such as Camel Camel Camel or Honey, free browser extensions that show price histories on Amazon and let shoppers set price-drop alerts to figure out what’s actually a deal.
Wait on clothing
If you can hold off buying a new down jacket for now, you’re more likely to find a better deal: Winter merchandise becomes cheaper later on in the season, said Ashok Lalwani, a professor of marketing at Indiana University who studies pricing.
Apparel retailers offer deeper discounts when they need to clear out one season’s stuff to move into the following — because keeping inventory is costly and fashion trends may change, he said.
Promotions on clothing are expected to be particularly strong this holiday from a year ago. Gap (GPS), Kohl’s (KSS), Nike (NKE) and other brands have a surplus of clothing and are marking it down to draw customers.
“We expect the broader marketplace to be more promotional through the end of the holiday season,” Levi (LEVI) finance chief Harmit Singh said Thursday.
Buy electronics and toys around Black Friday
The best time of the year to buy new gadgets and toys remains the period around Black Friday, analysts say.
Retailers have trained shoppers over the years to seek deep discounts on TVs, video game consoles, laptops and other electronics on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So if electronics deals aren’t strong on those days, retailers risk disappointing consumers.
“Consumers will no longer expect those deals in future years,” Lalwani said, and retailers will struggle to “entice consumers to their stores on future Black Fridays.”
Adobe said Thanksgiving will be the best day to find electronics discounts, while Black Friday will offer the best deals for televisions. If you’re looking to buy a computer, Adobe said, shop on Cyber Monday.
Watch the price after you buy
Even after you’ve purchased a product, you might still be able to get a deeper discount.
Track prices online, and if an item drops lower than the amount you purchased it for, some retailers will refund the difference, Dworsky said.
Many major stores have extended their holiday price match policies to cover a longer time period.
For example, for items purchased at a Target store or online starting October 6, consumers can request a price match if the price goes lower on or before December 24. Purchases made at Walmart on or after October 1 can be returned through January 31.
So make sure to be a smart shopper even after you buy.
CNN Underscored senior editor Chelsea Stone contributed to this article.