Holiday Shopping: Buy Now or Wait?
Wal-Mart is slashing prices, and many retailers have been trumpeting "holiday" sales since October. So, what to do: Buy now, or wait for even bigger discounts closer to Christmas Day?
Do a little of both, retail experts say. "Shop early for what you want based on what you see as advertised prices," advises Marshal Cohen, an industry analyst with NPD Group. But find out whether the store will refund part of the purchase price if the item does go on sale within 30 days. Then as sales crank up after Thanksgiving, keep an eye out for better prices on your items.
As prices drop, so will selection among the hottest holiday products. "If you don't care what DVD player you get, then you can wait, but if you are specific on a brand and certain product attributes, you can't wait," says Marie Driscoll, retail group chief at Standard & Poor's.
There is money to be saved by shopping or comparing prices online. Over two thirds of consumers expect to do part of their holiday spending online, according to a Deloitte & Touche survey. "Online shopping continues to convert more readily into online buying, and online pre-shoppingresearching items and comparing prices online before heading to a storeis becoming far more pervasive," says Pat Conroy, vice chairman and national managing principal of Deloitte's consumer business practice.
ShopperTrak, a retail tracking firm, predicts that the Saturday before Christmas will be the biggest shopping day of the year, followed by the Friday after Thanksgiving. "There is opportunity for the shopper early and opportunity for the shopper later," says Bill Martin, a ShopperTrak cofounder.
Because Thanksgiving comes early this year, the traditional holiday shopping season will last 31 days, a day longer than 2005 and the longest since 2001. Just one extra shopping day should mean nearly $2 billion in extra consumer spending, projects Emek Basker, assistant professor of economics at the University of MissouriColumbia.
Despite a slowing housing market and high levels of consumer debt, shoppers are expected to keep buying. Projections range from a 4.5 percent increase in holiday retail sales (Standard & Poor's) to 7 percent (Deloitte). But 38 percent of consumers intend not to use their credit cards at all for holiday purchases, according to the Deloitte survey.
Holiday shopping should hit full stride right after Thanksgiving. "A lot of retailers are starting to open at midnight on Thanksgiving to get people to show up even earlier just to get extra buzz," says Michelle Bogan, a strategist at retail consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates. "The weekend before Thanksgiving until the Monday following Thanksgiving is the big sale window."
By then, though, a lot of shopping will have been done. Fully 45 percent of consumers surveyed by NPD Group said in mid-September that they had already begun their shopping or would do so before Thanksgiving.