The Shopping Game

Understanding the seasons will determine when to find the best deals

January 06, 2008|By Andrea K. Walker and Tricia Bishop | Andrea K. Walker and Tricia Bishop,Sun reporters

The Super Bowl is nearing and you want to splurge on a flat screen television even though you're worried it's the wrong time of year to find a deal because so many others want to buy one, too.

But shopping and retail experts say it may be the best time to land a discount. Stores stock up big during peak TV watching times and they know their competitors want the sale just as badly.

"They usually go on sale before big sporting events," said Sheyna Steiner, who researched the best time to get deals on various products for Bankrate.com. "So buy it before the Super Bowl or before the Olympics."

Shopping experts say consumers who work the calendar in terms of buying items can typically snag the best bargains. Certain items are almost certain to go on sale at the same time every year. Just as most shoppers know that retailers trot out discounts each Christmas season, consumers can gain an edge by taking advantage of the seasonal habits of merchants.

Digital cameras often go on sale in April, a few months after new models are introduced. Cars typically are priced to move in October to make room for next year's newest creations. And sellers are likely to offer the best deals on homes at the end of the year when virtually no one wants to move.

Merchants also train consumers to expect certain deals each season with advertising campaigns that in many ways have become a tradition. For example, retailers have been holding "white sales" every January on linens and towels ever since department store founder John Wanamaker created the sale in the 1800s.

Companies that don't participate in such promotions can often lose business to competitors who offer those deals and it's typically the best time of year to buy those items.

It's also a sure bet that retailers will slash prices on items that are out-of-season. If you buy your grills and swimsuits in the fall and your heaters in the summer, you'll likely get good deals, though the selection may be limited. You also aren't likely to use the items for a year or so.

Shopping at the end of the season, when retailers are looking to clear out inventory to bring in new items, is a popular time for bargain shoppers. That means buying furniture in June when showrooms are making room for new lines that come out in August. Labor Day is also a good time for sales.

New models of washers, dryers and other major appliances are often rolled out in October, so you can probably find discounts on the older models.

`End-of-season' wait

"End-of-season" clothing sales in recent years have come to mean just waiting a month or so after the new clothing arrives thanks to the quick fashion cycle, said Michelle Jones, who publishes a money-saving tips magazine online at www.betterbudgeting.com.

It's also wise to know when retailers will charge more for items because of peak demand. If you're pinching pennies, you should never, ever buy jewelry on Valentine's Day because merchants know people are willing to splurge on gifts for their loved one.

"You want to avoid buying jewelry around big holidays," Steiner said. "The rest of the year - it's really a good time to buy."

But the basic laws of supply-and-demand don't always follow such logic when it comes to buying things. The television deals offered during Super Bowl season prove that theory wrong.

And there often are other things at play in the pricing. For example, new television models are announced at electronics shows in January but often don't hit stores until August and September. Prices typically drop a few months after they debut.

Keep your eyes open

And even with all these general tips for sales, you should still keep your eyes open for the unexpected. Economic conditions can mean more deals for consumers.

Retailers began offering steep discounts early this holiday season because of predictions that consumers were going to be more reluctant to shop due to a soft economy.

And even though home furnishings are traditionally best bought around Labor Day, the wisdom of that adage is waning amid a declining housing market. That slump has led to trouble among furnishings retailers, said Laura Champine, a retail analyst with Morgan Keegan & Co.

Going-out-of-business sales such as the one being held by Scan International Inc. are widespread these days.

"You should still check at all times of the year because you never know when a store is going to have an overstock on an item," said Mandy Walker, a senior editor for Consumer Reports, "and you can find a better deal."

andrea.walker@baltsun.com tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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