The holiday shopping week, never mind Black Friday, has descended on retailers big and small.
As most savvy shoppers know, myriad deep holiday discounts are offered well before Black Friday, the day after turkey and all those sides. Sales promotions for the hottest toys, clothing and electronics have been splashed across TV, company websites, social media and newspapers since October.
Retailers learned long ago that it pays to lure shoppers early with “Black Friday” deals, encouraging them to sign up for alerts on their smartphones.
Finder.com says 53% of Americans are shopping pre-holiday sales in addition to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Adobe Insights predicts online holiday spending for November and December will top $209 billion this year.
Here are five tips to keep in mind during this often frantic week of holiday shopping, whether buying at the mall, online — or both.
To return or not to return?
Before you break out the comfy sneakers and hit the mall early, check out retailers’ return policies.
Many will have holiday refund and return policies that include partial refunds for items that will go on sale for even less later in the shopping season.
And buyer beware: Some merchants are shortening the return window and even charging a return or restocking fee, according to Spencer Kieboom, founder and CEO of Pollen Returns, a return management company.
Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and J. Crew — once known for their generous return policy that spanned the lifetime of a garment — have shortened their regular return windows to within a month, Kieboom said.
Other things to consider: Understand the types of products you can return (some electronics and food have a no-return policy); any time limits for returns (some retailers have extended them for the holidays); and whether you’ll need to provide a receipt.
Popular items may sell out fast
Many doorbuster specials are offered in a limited supply, hence the well-known lines at Best Buy.
Hot gifts this year include several Apple products, including the latest iPad Air and AirPods Pro, as well as the Series 7 Apple Watch. Other popular items include the Level Up Gaming Chair from vTec, the Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker and the popular Ring Video Doorbell.
Holiday-themed pajamas are another trendy item that typically goes out of stock early as more people buy them ahead of December for holiday photos and work-from-home lounging.
Popular items in the electronics category include the Meta Quest 6 virtual reality headset, Microsoft Surface Pro 9 laptop, Steam Deck PC Game Console and Sonos Roam Portable Bluetooth Speaker.
Trending toys for the kids include the LEGO Holiday Main Street set, Barbie Little DreamHouse by Fischer-Price, Lloyd’s Golden Ultra Dragon and the Lakeshore Don’t Let the Bugs Fall game.
Skip in-store sales and shop online
Plenty of Black Friday deals will be available in person, but as most consumers have learned, discounts abound online.
Data from Statistica show online buying has ramped up since 2018, when consumers were split evenly between online and store shopping. This year’s survey shows 57% plan to shop online compared with 43% in the store.
As in past years, many big-box stores will be closed on Thanksgiving, including Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Staples, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Bed Bath and Beyond.
While endlessly scrolling Facebook from the couch, be prepared to see an advertisement onslaught.
Advertisers and social media companies have set their sites on scores of consumers trolling their platforms night and day. Merchants will often reward customers who like or follow them with special alerts to holiday shopping discounts and incentives.
But another cautionary note: As companies roll out seasonal deals, scammers are looking to snare bargain-hunting shoppers with bogus websites and social media campaigns that impersonate major brands, AARP reports.
To avoid getting taken, don’t click on a link from an email or text to a hot deal. Instead, go directly to the merchant’s website offering the deal. If you don’t see the special listed, you’ve probably avoided a shopper’s nightmare: no trendy gift under the tree.
Create a budget and stick to it
With inflation at record highs, deals matter and so too does consumer credit.
A new Lending Tree study shows 35% of Americans are somewhat likely to apply for a store credit card this holiday season, up from 29% in 2021.
Credit card debt is rising at its fastest clip in more than 20 years, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Americans owe $887 billion on their credit cards, a 13% increase from a year ago.
Many credit cards will double a manufacturer’s warranty, but be wary of interest-free promotions offered by store credit cards. They’re great if a cardholder is disciplined enough to pay off the balance before the promotional period ends. Borrowers who fail to do so end up paying interest on the full amount of the purchase.
Bank of America offers some tips to keep your holiday spending in check:
— Use your phone to price-check a better deal elsewhere.
— Don’t wait until the last minute to buy everything in a rush, which often leads to overspending.
— Consider buying last year’s electronics. For many people, the latest and greatest features aren’t important, and shoppers will likely save by gifting an older version of a device that was the latest and greatest just a few months ago.
— Beware high shipping costs. It’s not unusual for an online item to appear cheaper than its in-store counterpart — until shipping costs are added in. Many retailers offer shipping coupons or free shipping days to attract customers, so do some research before clicking “buy now.”
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