If you feel like the holiday shopping season started earlier this year, that’s because it did. In the past, it traditionally started today – Black Friday. But this fall, retailers have started trying to entice shoppers earlier: Amazon, Best Buy and Target, for example, started offering holiday- or Black Friday-tailored deals in October.
One culprit behind the change is inflation. With prices for food, energy and other goods up nearly 8% from a year ago, consumers fear paying too much. But retailers want customers and have tried to convince the public that their products are affordable. An earlier shopping season with special promotions can help attract more customers.
“If people are careful with their spending, they’re more likely to spend when they see a sale,” said my colleague Nathan Burrow, who covers deals for Wirecutter, the Times-owned product recommendation site. “And retailers are obliging.”
The timing of the sales is just one example of how inflation distorts the shopping season. Today’s newsletter will be a guide to what consumers can expect and how they can face higher prices, with the help of Wirecutter.
You’ll likely see lots of signs touting price cuts if you shop today. But that doesn’t really mean you’re getting a good deal.
“Not all sales are worth your time,” Nathan said. “Yes, there are sales that can actually save people money. But sometimes there are sales that aren’t all they’re supposed to be.
In some cases, items are perpetually or frequently on sale – so much so that the lowest price might as well be the regular price. The prices of video games, for example, are so regularly reduced that some frugal players wait exclusively for the sales. An article from Lifehacker captured the sentiment, telling people to “stop paying full price for video games.”
Inflation has also complicated matters. Consider a mundane item: a two-pack of tape measures at Home Depot, now on sale for $25. This two-pack, which Wirecutter has been priced in since 2018, was on sale for $20 in previous years. So, is the $25 price tag really a bargain? It does, compared to the $45 it was selling for a few weeks ago, but it’s still higher than it was about a year ago, thanks to inflation.
Inflation means consumers can expect similar scenarios with a range of products this year.
However, agreements exist. Nathan has tips for finding good ones in the weeks ahead. First, comparison shop: Now that retailers post their prices online, it’s easy to browse through different outlets to find the best deals. You can also use trackers, like CamelCamelCamel and Honey, to find recent price drops.
Nathan also recommended setting a personal budget for a set number of items – a wish list – and a separate slush fund for impulse purchases. This not only limits your spending, but can also push you to find great deals because you know your total is limited.
“It’s very basic,” Nathan said, “but it can save you some money.”
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