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Retailers like Amazon, Target and Walmart pushed October sales as an early start to the holiday shopping season again this year. But only about a quarter of Amazon Prime Big Deal Days shoppers used the Oct. 10-11 event to buy holiday gifts, according to a survey of verified buyers from market research firm Numerator.
The rest might be waiting for Black Friday (Nov. 24 this year) to get the gift list going.
If that’s you, here’s a short list of what to buy (or skip) during the traditional start to holiday shopping, which is the sale period that includes Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23), Black Friday and Cyber Monday (Nov. 27).
Buy: TVs and big-ticket tech
This one is no secret, but you may be looking for confirmation: Black Friday is still the “sweet spot” for TVs, says Trae Bodge, shopping expert from truetrae.com. “Yes, we saw some TVs on sale over Amazon [Prime Big Deal Days], but I really think that we'll see better deals over Black Friday.”
Expect discounts on electronics like laptops, wireless headphones and soundbars at all the usual big-box stores. And if you need more time to save for the right size and model TV, the next best time to buy is around the Super Bowl.
Skip (for a couple of weeks): Toys and holiday decor
Toys aren’t off limits on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but you may save more if you wait a couple of weeks for when retailers start to sweat. It’s better to hold off on holiday decorations too, if you can.
Bodge says there’ll be better prices on kids' toys and holiday decorations as December wears on. “I like to wait on those things because as we get closer to the Christmas holidays, that's when retailers are going to be scrambling to get rid of that stuff to clear space for the new year,” she says.
Buy: Small kitchen appliances
NerdWallet’s latest holiday sale price-tracking data shows Black Friday and Cyber Monday bring great deals on kitchen gadgets. Prices on the three kitchen items NerdWallet watched since late last year — which included a Ninja air fry oven, KitchenAid mixer and Nespresso coffee machine — hit bottom dollar last Cyber Monday.
The price of the KitchenAid Classic Series 4.5-Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, for example, dropped to $220.99 at Target (down from its $329.99 retail price) last Cyber Monday.
Skip: Sporting goods
Some sporting goods are hard to wrap and hide. That may be reason enough to wait until closer to Christmas. Another reason is based on data from software company Adobe’s holiday season forecast for online shopping. The company, which analyzes U.S. e-commerce transactions across many retailers, predicts Dec. 4 will be the best day to get geared up for sports.
“Historically the best pricing for these items tends to be during the first week of December as older inventory clears and new personal fitness equipment and other sporting goods become available,” said Vivek Pandya, group manager at Adobe Digital Insights, in an email.
Buy: Winter apparel
In a bit of a twist, Bodge says Black Friday may bring better buys on winter clothes than are typically expected, possibly due to the weather staying warmer longer in many regions. Retailers fearing they’ll have too much supply could move sales on parkas, beanies and sweaters up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
“[It’s] notable because, in my experience, winter apparel is most deeply discounted in December,” says Bodge.
So, look for layers while you’re browsing for clothes with a hot beverage Black Friday morning.
Skip (maybe): Tools and home improvement items
Many major product categories are fair game for good discounts on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but you may want to double-check the price history before you order a new drill or circular saw.
“Tools and home improvement equipment tend to lag behind [other categories] in the percentage of discounts during the holiday season,” said Pandya.
That’s not to say all deals on tools won’t be good enough. If you’re unsure, try a coupon-finding browser extension like PayPal Honey or Rakuten, or a site like Camelcamelcamel.com, which tracks product prices over time.
You can always look to June, around Father’s Day, to buy tools.
Holiday shopping tips
Read up before you buy now, pay later
Many shoppers will rely on credit for their purchases. Adobe’s forecast predicts record use of "buy now, pay later" options — an estimated $17 billion in online spending to fund purchases during the holiday season.
When you can adhere to the payment schedule, Bodge says, BNPL is like “the modern layaway." “It's a great way to spread out your financial outlay for a particular month,” she says.
She also recommends that those newer to the concept read the fine print before signing up, because late payments can lead to late fees, which could negate any discounts realized.
NerdWallet’s 2023 holiday shopping report found 52% of Americans incurred credit card debt when shopping last holiday season and, among them, nearly a third (31%) have still not paid off those balances.
“If you're dragging credit card debt month to month, you should maybe use debit only or just cash,” says Bodge.
Check your feelings at checkout
With the holiday season comes pressure to make others happy, reminds Bodge.
The holiday shopping report found that more than half of 2023 holiday shoppers said holiday shopping stresses them out.
You have to block out the urge to keep up with the Joneses and try to buy within your means, says Bodge.
“Be mindful of your own personal financial situation and gift accordingly.”