Holiday Sales Season
By all accounts, people are expected to spend more this year on holiday shopping than they did in 2009, which is good news for retailers hoping to boost their lagging sales. There is one caveat though: While consumers are prepared to spend more this year, they are also eager to get more for their money.
One recent study from American Express found that 84% of holiday shoppers plan to stretch their dollars this year by clipping coupons and shopping in the clearance section. Retailers, for their part, seem to be very much aware of this and are fighting with one another to advertise the biggest bargains.
However, just because you find an item on sale doesn't mean you should buy it. So we’ve come up with seven shopping strategies to help you navigate the sales you'll find this Black Friday and throughout the entire holiday season.
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Make A Shopping List and Stick to It
With all of the deals and promotions offered during the holiday season, it can be all too easy to forget the difference between things you need verses the items you want to buy on impulse alone.
“The issue with the holiday season remains that most of us need nothing. Fruits, vegetables, olive oil, socks and maybe a little chocolate. That’s it,” said Paco Underhill, a consumer psychologist and author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.
But according to Underhill and other shopping experts, when confronted with an endless amount of deals and a mass of consumers buying up hot items in every direction, we end up adding many more items to our shopping lists.
Perhaps the only sure way to avoid overspending during the holiday season is to plan out what you want to buy in advance and cling to it no matter what.
Consider it the golden rule for holiday shopping: Decide definitely who you want to buy gifts for this year and what products you need for yourself and your family and don’t go over the limit.
Unfortunately, even the most disciplined shoppers are likely to break this rule once in a while.
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Verify Your Deal
If you do get caught up in the holiday frenzy and feel compelled to make some impulse buys, the first question you should ask yourself is whether that item is something you would actually use.
“Consumers should always consider how valuable the item is to them. If you are never going to use that item, even if it’s worth $1,100 and you get it for $300, that’s still a waste of money,” said Julia Scott, a shopping expert who runs the blog BargainBabe.com.
After that, shoppers need to assess whether they are really getting a good deal. As Scott notes, retailers may advertise great deals in their stores, but you have to pay attention to the fine print about what exactly is on sale.
“It’s usually a very limited number of items that are heavily discounted,” she said. “If a sign says ‘up to 70% off’, that means there might be one item that’s marked down that much, while everything else is close to full price.” You might also find that only certain colors or sizes of products are discounted, while the rest are more expensive.
For this reason, Scott recommends shoppers track down the store’s staff or make use of barcode scanners in big box retailers to check the price.
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Use Online Price Comparison Tools
Fortunately, consumers no longer have to rely solely on a salesperson’s promises that they’re getting the best deal.
According to Michelle Madhok, an online shopping expert and CEO of SheFinds.com, any shopper with a smartphone or internet-enabled device should consult with price comparison sites like PriceGrabber.com to ensure a good deal. This site lets you search for specific items in order to find out which stores are offering it for the lowest price.
And during the rest of the year, shoppers can make use of online tools like Pricepinx.com, which lets you bookmark products you’d like to buy and will notify you when the price point changes. This way you know the moment there is a deal on an item you actually want.
Photo Credit: Pricegrabber.com
Beware of Rebates
One common mistake that shoppers make, according to Scott, is banking too much on rebates.
“Even savvy shoppers are notoriously bad at mailing in rebates,” she said. For that reason, she says “the best policy is not to count those dollars as part of the sale price.”
Instead, consider it free money if and when you actually send in the rebate. But when you’re in the store, look at the price alone without the rebates factored in, and only make the purchase if that price is already low enough for you.
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Bring A Friend
If you’re worried that you might end up buying more than you should during the holidays, you might want to consider bringing a thrifty friend or family member to shop with you.
“Sometimes you need someone to tell you that you don’t need to spend the money or that this sweater looks ugly on you, somebody who is just going to be that voice of reason and make you pause and hopefully reason will pop in,” Scott said.
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Use Cash Instead of Credit
One budgeting trick that consumers can use to save money during the holiday shopping season, as well as during the rest of year, is to leave their credit cards at home and use cash instead. This way, if you want to spend more than your allotted amount, you’ll have no choice but to leave the store to get more money, which gives you some more time to think about your purchase.
In fact, one recent survey found that 90% of consumers plan to use cash for their holiday purchases, and for good reason: Many consumers are still saddled with year-old debt from having overspent during the previous holiday season.
Photo Credit: Andres Rueda
Don't Be Afraid to Wait
Many people may hesitate to pass up a deal during the holidays because they’re worried it may be another year before they can find a similar deal, but according to Madhok, this really isn’t the case.
“The message of all the stores right now is buy, buy, buy, but always keep in mind that you can get most of these items later for just as a cheap,” she said. “Electronic items may have some door buster deals during this time, but other products, especially clothing, will be marked down again after the holiday season.”
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Black Friday Deals Roundup
Want to find out all the best deals and tips to prepare for Black Friday this year? Check out MainStreet’s roundup of everything you need to know about one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
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