What You Need to Know About Holiday Shopping

We take a sneak peek at retailers' game plans so you can plan your offense.

1. Know when to pull the trigger. You'll find great deals on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, on low-end electronics. But if you're looking for brand names, you may want to wait until closer to Christmas. For the past few years, says Dan de Grandpre, editor in chief of Dealnews.com, prices on high-end, brand-name TVs have dropped as Christmas approached, and Dealnews.com expects the same trend this year. Prices at moderate-price clothing retailers, such as Aeropostale and The Gap, are more likely to fall as Christmas nears than at higher-end department stores. Expect steep discounts on toys in the two to three weeks prior to Christmas -- but not necessarily in the seven days before the holiday. If you're looking for a specific item or a shirt in a certain size or color, you might want to grab an interim markdown and not wait until inventories run low.

2. Be wary of retailers' tactics. Stores know a lot about how your mind works, and they're prepared to manipulate you to increase sales. For example, the merchandise that gets prime position at eye level or on displays at the end of an aisle is the stuff they most want to sell, tempting you whether you need it or not, says L.J. Shrum, chair of the marketing department at the University of Texas at San Antonio. "Doorbuster," "one time only" and "going out of business" sales are designed to persuade shoppers to buy now or forever mourn a missed opportunity. Another tactic is to offer extended warranties, many of which aren't worth it, says de Grandpre. "You're buying insurance for something you're not likely to have to get fixed."

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Lisa Gerstner
Editor, Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine

Lisa has been the editor of Kiplinger Personal Finance since June 2023. Previously, she spent more than a decade reporting and writing for the magazine on a variety of topics, including credit, banking and retirement. She has shared her expertise as a guest on the Today Show, CNN, Fox, NPR, Cheddar and many other media outlets around the nation. Lisa graduated from Ball State University and received the school’s “Graduate of the Last Decade” award in 2014. A military spouse, she has moved around the U.S. and currently lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons.