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Best day for holiday deals? Not necessarily Black Friday

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

November 24, 2014


CHICAGO — Those who would rather choke on a wishbone than forgo pecan pie for Thanksgiving Day sales or venture into the Black Friday madness might be happy to hear that the weekend’s deals may be just the tip of the iceberg.

"The 2014 holiday season is shaping up to be the most promotional holiday season on record," said Steve Barr, retail and consumer leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Though the pre-planned Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday deals offer steep discounts on select items, retailers adjust prices constantly through the season in response to demand and competition, and the frequent sales happening since the beginning of November suggest there’s more to come, Barr said.

"The early promotional activity is a very strong indicator of the retailer not achieving their sales objective and we would expect that to increase into the remainder of November and into the holidays," Barr said.

While several surveys, including the widely cited National Retail Federation report, say spending during the holiday months is expected to grow by 4 percent, Barr said a more nuanced economic picture is driving prices down. His company’s holiday survey divided consumers into those making more than $50,000, who plan to spend an average of almost $1,000 on holiday shopping, and those making less than $50,000, who on average plan to spend less than $400. The latter represent 67 percent of shoppers, so retailers have to act aggressively to grab their limited dollars before they run out, Barr said.

For shoppers wanting to seize the best deals, when is the best time to shop?

In addition to Black Friday weekend, the final two weeks before Christmas are among the most promotional, Barr said, as retailers vie for the wallets of last-minute shoppers. Super Saturday, the Saturday before Christmas, also tends to offer steep discounts, said Pat Dermody, head of Chicago-based Retale, a location-based mobile circulars platform.

Several deal-tracking sites try to pinpoint the best days for savings more specifically, based on advertised promotions as well as discounts from prior years.

Savings.com, for example, analyzed 1.5 million deals from 25,000 retailers over the past five years and found that, historically, sales have peaked an average of six to seven days before Thanksgiving.

Projecting for 2014, the report said that while Black Friday is one of the best days for discounts on electronics, they are similarly discounted on the day before Thanksgiving. Discounts on toys are expected to be best on Wednesday, Dec. 8 and Dec. 19, and shoppers seeking apparel should wait for Dec. 1, the online deal day known as Cyber Monday, or Dec. 11 or 18. Books and novelties should have their best deals Dec. 15, 22 and 23, Savings.com said.

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DealScience, which tracks past and current deals across 13,000 brands, predicts that this Dec. 18, while notable as Free Shipping Day (a shopping holiday when retailers offer free shipping guaranteed by Christmas), won’t be tops for savings. The best time for shopping will be between Tuesday and Dec. 5, DealScience found, when the number of deals is more than double that of other weeks in November and December. Black Friday is reliably good for electronics and Cyber Monday typically good for apparel.

But waiting for Cyber Monday could backfire. According to Adobe Systems, which analyzed a trillion visits to 4,500 retail websites over the last six years, Thanksgiving Day will boast the lowest online prices, with an average discount of 24 percent. The company predicts out-of-stock messages to rise fivefold on Cyber Monday due to increased demand and limited supply, and online prices to increase the next day.

Predicting this season’s savings based on past years is iffy, of course, as variable factors influence discounts. If a warm front mercifully descends on Chicago, for example, sweaters would likely go on sale, Barr said.

And each year looks different as Black Friday morphs into a week-long or month-long event. Many retailers started offering Black Friday-like discounts on Nov. 1 and launched their steep Thanksgiving weekend specials online as early as last week, promoting the offers as an alternative to standing in long lines.

"If retailers are good at anything, it’s keeping us dazed and confused," said Doug Berg, "chief tracker" at the Minnesota-based price-tracking service TrackIf.

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TrackIf is among many Web and mobile services that monitor price shifts to help people snag the best deals. Shoppers flag products they want and get an alert when the price drops (it also alerts customers when an item is back in stock). People can keep tracking an item once they’ve purchased it so that if the price drops again, they can seek a price correction from the retailer, Berg said.

Users also can see what the prices of the product were historically so they know how good of a deal they are getting. Price cuts can be misleading when compared to the suggested retail price, as many items are never listed at that price, Berg said.

For example, Target is promoting the popular Zoomer Dino toy for a holiday price of $79.99, down from the suggested retail price of $99.99, but TrackIf’s technology found that the toy was priced at $79.99 through the summer and in October was at $89.99, making it less of a dramatic deal, Berg said.

How retailers will fare after such a promotional holiday, especially as shoppers arm themselves with data-crunching tools to maximize their discounts, remains to be seen.

To ensure profits don’t take a severe hit, as they did for many retailers during the last holiday season, retailers will need to employ the data they collect on their shoppers to display desirable, higher-margin products that people will buy once they’re lured in by the sales.

"The good retailers execute on this very well," Barr said. "For those that don’t do this well, it will be a challenging holiday from an overall profitability strategy."