The days of queuing to shiver outside the big box stores in the early morning hours on Black Friday are over for most Americans. Of those planning to shop this year, an estimated 80% will make at least some of their purchases online to take advantage of holiday deals.
With consumers better off financially than last year, analysts expect a high-octane season, even as retailers continue to be plagued by supply chain disruptions, labor shortages and rising inflation. According to NPD Group’s Holiday Retail Outlook, they spend an average of $785 on gifts. That is more than 13% more than last year and 6% more than in 2019.
Most retailers started the season early, with plenty of holiday stock for Halloween. Total US retail sales rose 1.7% in October, the US Department of Commerce reported last week, even as consumer confidence hovered at a 10-year low amid rising gas, food and electronics prices.
Popular items are likely to be in short supply and sell out faster, experts say, so making major purchases takes patience, persistence and flexibility.
“It might just be an odd shopping season, a little less predictable but not necessarily more cutthroat,” said Claire Tassin, retail and e-commerce analyst at Morning Consult.
Here are five tips for more successful Christmas shopping, starting with Black Friday weekend:
Start early – like, right now
If there is something specific and non-negotiable on your wish list, such as a hot toy or a game console, act now. According to Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to find it later, and there’s nothing to gain by waiting.
“Anything you absolutely need that is specific, get it,” Schreiner said. “Does it have a specific style, color, size that you should give to someone? Now is the time to start buying those things. Prices are already falling.”
Many Americans started their Christmas shopping in October, spending more than $72.5 billion online, Adobe reported, up 8% from last year. Toy sales are up 50% from last year, while spending on video games and gift cards is up 20%.
Strong demand is causing shortages months earlier than usual. Online “out of stock” messages exploded 250% in October compared to the same period a year ago, with shoppers seeing more than 2 billion such alerts, according to Adobe. Electronics had the highest inventory levels, followed by jewelry, clothing, home, garden and pet products.
Don’t expect an abundance of blockbuster deals
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are great times to make purchases that don’t have as many specs, such as TVs, laptops, video games and clothing, Schreiner said. Americans are expected to spend $36 billion online from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, according to Adobe, accounting for about 17% of the entire holiday season.
Inflation has forced many companies to pass increases on to customers. By the end of October, prices in all categories of Adobe monitors were up about 2%, Schreiner said.
There will still be some deals, just less, she said, “and generally prices will be a little higher than you expected.
Retailers are also grappling with skyrocketing shipping costs, a by-product of supply chains, and labor shortages that are stifling freight movers.
“For retailers, this means it’s harder to have the right items on their shelves and in their warehouses, and harder to give as big discounts as consumers would normally expect on Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” Tassin said.
Research before you buy
It’s important to study your options if you want a good deal, according to Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst at DealNews.com.
“Before adding anything to your cart, check with other retailers to make sure you’re getting the best price available,” Ramhold told The Post in an email. “If there are certain items you are looking for, check them out beforehand so you know what the regular price is and can tell at a glance whether it’s a deal or a dud.”
Taking the time can pay off: Retailers are increasingly willing to match price, Schreiner said, as well as offering street-side pickup and other conveniences that can ease shopping chaos.
“In a world where things are likely to be out of stock, there’s a lot of value in using those apps, finding your product, lining it up, and then getting it on the curb or in the store,” Schreiner said. “It’s much faster to open another app and try to find what you’re looking for or open another web page than it is to drive. . . and go see if it’s at the next store.’
Best Buy, Home Depot, Kohl’s, Target, Walmart, Macy’s, and JC Penney will all have some form of pickup service this holiday season. And check opening times: Unlike previous years, Target, Walmart, and Best Buy are all closed on Thanksgiving.
That’s partly because so many people shop online, Tassin said, but it also reflects a shift from the midnight openings that were once a Black Friday hallmark: Since 2018, about 50% of consumers are against keeping stores open on Thanksgiving, according to Morning Consulting. .
“The impulse to go to the store is less attractive than it used to be, and for retailers to have to be open on Thanksgiving is less attractive,” Tassin said. “It also doesn’t look great in our current climate to have your staff work on vacations.”
Be flexible and brace yourself for delays
While in-store deals are a thing of the past, retail crowds are expected to far surpass those of the past two years, Ramhold said. Be prepared for parking problems, long lines and longer check-out times. Bring your face mask just in case as many stores still require them for shoppers.
For those who only shop online, compare deals and be prepared to take what you can get, Ramhold said. Given the season’s limited supplies, “maybe it’s a matter of what you’re willing to pay rather than finding the lowest price.”
Shipping delays are hard to avoid wherever you shop, Ramhold warns, as few industries are immune to today’s challenges. And the closer the holidays get, the more pronounced the backups are likely to be.
Be persistent, but have a backup plan
If you’re struggling to lock down an important item on your list, don’t lose hope. Between searching for bargains and backup options like gift cards, there is always something to be found.
And if you’re set on something specific, keep checking. You never know when a retailer might get a new shipment, Tassin said, and you’re going to miss out if you don’t ask.
“In some of these key sectors that are already more affected, it is not necessary that the items do not exist. It’s just a matter of getting them to the right store, in the right place,” Tassin said. “Because of that unpredictable inventory timing, you could refresh your browser in mid-December and find that what you want has come online.”
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