Your guide to tracking down holiday bargains

Tracking down holiday bargains

November 18, 2007|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN REPORTER

Bad economic news could bring good buys for holiday shoppers this year.

High gasoline and food prices have retailers so worried you won't spend generously this holiday season that they're rolling out some of their deals well before the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving kickoff. And while those Friday deals typically offer some of the best discounts of the year, there are ways you can find good buys throughout the shopping season.

If you are willing to do a little shopping homework, you should be able to snare some of the best deals and perhaps avoid long lines or the unending search for a parking spot.

"Consumers have to cast a wide net," said James E. Fisher, a marketing professor at St. Louis University who has studied holiday shopping trends. "They have to read the newspaper advertisements, look at direct mail, use the Internet. There are so many ways to find deals now."

Start looking for bargains early because some stores have scaled back their merchandise this year in anticipation of less-than-stellar sales. But if you're a gambler willing to wait until the days right before Christmas, you could find even better buys. Just remember that the most sought-after merchandise will be long gone.

Many of the door-buster deals made available Friday morning at stores are offered online on Thanksgiving Day. Even so, many merchants already have started lowering prices in anticipation of a lackluster spending season. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, is expected to reveal some of its day-after-Thanksgiving deals in an online circular tomorrow. On Thanksgiving Day, it will reveal more.

There also are plenty of Web sites that track Black Friday deals. Some of them include: and (The day after Thanksgiving is often referred to as Black Friday because it was when merchants expected to see their accounting ledgers go from red to black for the year, given the sales they posted that day.)

Although some are watching to see if the day after Thanksgiving will be as lucrative for retailers as it has been in the past, it is still counted as one of the best days to find a bargain. In particular, stores are known to offer good prices on electronics during the earliest hours.

But most of the steeply discounted digital televisions are limited to just a few to each store. If you're not in line by 8 p.m. or so Thanksgiving evening and willing to spend the night in a Circuit City parking lot, you're not likely to score those deals. But there typically are plenty of good buys on things such as DVDs and other merchandise that are offered for just a few hours Friday morning or throughout the weekend.

Don't take the merchants' word about the deals, though. Use online sites to comparison shop throughout the season. If you know just what you want, compare prices at different retailers by using sites such as,, and

Alan Hoffman, a sales manager from Owings Mills, said he scours newspaper advertisements and compares prices at different stores before making a purchase. He also uses coupons.

"I like to do like a vulture," Hoffman said.

Some stores also are offering free shipping to their stores for customers who shop for items online. Those moves are designed to help you get in and out of a store quickly, rewarding you for shopping at home and knowing what you want.

If you have some time Thanksgiving Day, consider shopping online when some stores offer cheap prices on electronics, toys and clothing. But look early and buy when you find it - the deals are limited online just as they are in the stores. Most stores will offer sales weekly to keep luring customers in for deals.

Hoping to snare an item that goes on sale tomorrow? You might arrive before a store closes the day before a sale begins and try buying the item you want. Many stores enter those deals into the computer system the night before. The better price often is offered to the consumer who asks for it.

Ellen Kraemer, an Owings Mills stay-at-home mom who sells goods on eBay on the side, said she buys just about everything at bargain prices. She'll only pay full price on popular items she knows will go quickly.

Kraemer has many tactics: She visits discount stores such as Marshall's, Gabriel Brothers and C-Mart several times a week. She's on the mailing and e-mail lists of at least a dozen retailers for special discount coupons. She only shops department stores with a coupon or when there's a sale.

"I'm constantly looking for the deals," she said.

The good news for consumers is that merchants already know they need you this year.

Retail forecasts call for the slowest holiday shopping season since 2002 as economic woes - including a weak housing market and higher energy costs - are causing consumers to be more conservative with their spending.

The National Retail Federation expects sales to rise 4 percent this holiday season, which includes November and December. But sales rose 4.6 percent to $456 billion during last year's holiday season. With stores depending on holiday shopping for up to 40 percent of their annual sales, retailers are working more aggressively than ever to woo shoppers and to reach them early.

Wal-Mart set the tone weeks ago, slashing prices as early as Oct. 1 on toys and other merchandise. It also launched its door-buster deals late last month instead of waiting until the day after Thanksgiving as it did in past years. Toys "R" Us already is offering similar discounts. And Kohl's has cut prices, too.

"The deals," said Jay McIntosh, director of retail and consumer products at Ernst & Young, "are definitely already out there."

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