Are Semiannual Sales Worth It?

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By Emily Fredrix, AP Retail Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — If you're seeing the profusion of sales lately but holding out for even bigger savings in upcoming semiannual sales, you may want to think again.

It's definitely the season for semiannual sales as retailers make room for fall merchandise. But this year, because stores got used to frugal shoppers and didn't buy as much extra stock, they don't have to get rid of so much extra merchandise. That means the savings won't be as plentiful as in recent years.

Here's help figuring out who holds semiannual sales, how this year is different and what other sales are to come.

WHAT STORES TO CHECK: Most retailers have sales in early summer to clear out seasonal merchandise and make room for new things they can sell at full price in the fall. Clothing stores including Nordstrom, Saks, Victoria's Secret and Brooks Brothers and home-decor chain Williams-Sonoma all have these sales — as do many small retailers.

Nordstrom splits its semiannual sales into one for women and kids and one for men. The company also has a special once-a-year sale, where it discounts merchandise for the upcoming season, including products like Ugg boots, which rarely go on sale. Loyal customers remember this sale, which runs this year from July 6 through Aug. 1, like their parents' birthdays.

"We're careful to hold just a few sale events every year at Nordstrom," said Colin Johnson, a spokesman for the Seattle-based retailer. "We don't believe in having a one-day sale every other week."

WHAT'S DIFFERENT THIS YEAR: First, sales may not be as common as in the recession's first year, but there's still a glut. And that makes each one less significant.

"More than ever, retailers are running sales every two weeks," said Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief of dealnews.com. "The semiannual sale for a lot of people is just noise."

Second, the discounts are smaller. Try 30% to 50%, compared with the 75% price cuts that were common until about a year ago. And the racks are less full because retailers ordered less to begin with.

Third, many extra discounts that retailers used to entice buyers during these special sales are gone. Coupons for 25% off in the paper or online that could be applied to sale merchandise usually can't be linked with sales anymore, de Grandpre said.

That's not to say these discounts are gone. Chains like Gap Inc. and Borders Inc. regularly send out discounts even when they're not holding a sale, to keep their stores busy.

WHAT'S A SHOPPER TO DO: First, keep a lookout all the time for discounts instead of relying solely on the semiannual sales.

"Consumers have gotten used to, in the last year or so, (seeing) less inventory, and (they) are buying when they see the item that they want and when it's at the price they need it to be," said John Long, a retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates.

Second, shop the semiannual sales online before you head to the store. You'll be more likely to get the size and color you want despite the limited inventory, de Grandpre said. You'll have access to a centralized inventory with more items and not have to deal with your particular store's sparse racks.

Third, consider waiting. Retailers like Brooks Brothers, Timberland and Foot Locker still offer big sales well before the winter holidays, often in late September through early November. De Grandpre said those sales can be better than the chains' semiannual ones because retailers don't want to be left with extra inventory after the holidays.

Typically advertised as "friends and family" discounts for people who know employees, the 20% savings are often available to anyone who knows to ask. Just look online for printable coupons or ask at the store.

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