If it feels like the Christmas shopping season started earlier this year, that’s because it did. Previously, it traditionally started today – on Black Friday. But this fall, retailers began trying to lure customers earlier: Amazon, Best Buy and Target, for example, began offering deals tailored to the holidays or Black Friday in October.
One culprit behind the change is inflation. With prices for food, energy and other goods up nearly 8 percent from last year, consumers are worried about 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 get more shoppers in the door.
“If people are cautious about 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 sale 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 to deal with higher prices, with the help of Wirecutter.
You’re likely to see a lot of signs boasting price cuts if you go shopping today. But that doesn’t really mean you’re getting a good deal.
“Not every sale is going to be 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 hyped up to be.”
In some cases, items are constantly or frequently on sale – to the point that the lower price might as well be the regular price. The prices of video games, for example, are so routinely discounted that some thrifty gamers simply wait for sales. A Lifehacker article captured the sentiment, tells people to “stop paying full price for video games.”
Inflation has also complicated matters. Consider an everyday item: a two-pack tape measure at Home Depot, now on sale for $25. This two-pack, whose price Wirecutter has been tracking since 2018, was on sale for $20 in previous years. So is the $25 price tag really a deal? That’s compared to the $45 it sold for a few weeks ago, but it’s still higher than it was a year or so ago, thanks to inflation.
Inflation means that consumers can expect similar scenarios with a number of products this year.
Still, there are offers. Nathan has tips for finding good ones in the coming weeks. First, comparison shop: Now that retailers publish their prices online, it’s easy to browse different stores to find the best deals. You can also use trackers, e.g CamelCamelCamel and Honeyto find the latest price reductions.
Nathan also recommended setting a personal budget for a certain number of items — a wish list — and a separate slush fund for impulse buys. This not only limits how much you spend, but can also push you towards finding great deals since you know your total is limited.
“This is very basic,” Nathan said, “but it can save you money.”
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