Before you head into the final stretch before the holiday rush, when stores lose all subtlety in the ways they push gift-buying, you may wonder whether to pass up November bargains in the hope that some prices will keep falling.
Last year, most customers who waited until the final days before Dec. 25 found empty shelves instead of bargains because stores had sold most of their stock, and so didn't have to cut prices to clear out holiday merchandise.
This year, most stores are heading into the holidays with only a little more inventory, so again few are desperate. But many are discounting holiday goods earlier than last year because shoppers remain cautious.
Generally, "retailers are going out with their best prices of the season around the Thanksgiving week," says John Long, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates.
Here are some tips for timing your purchases this year.
FLAT-PANEL TVS: Particularly for lower-priced TV models, the time to act is past. Retailers slashed prices early to move a mounting glut of TVs. Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, discounted a 26-inch Vizio LED HDTV from $298 to $198 last weekend, for example. And a 55-inch Vizio LCD HDTV that had been selling for $1,098 dropped to $898 as part of a two-day sale.
Don't hold your breath for discounts on the latest and greatest, either. For 3-D and TVs that connect to the Internet, shoppers will have to wait until after Christmas for discounts, according to Craig Johnson, president of retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners.
- COMPUTERS: The time to buy both low-end and high-end laptop computers was cheapest around Black Friday. But anyone looking for ultra-cheap laptops should also check Walmart, office superstores and Amazon.com, he says.
- HOT TOYS: The best deal on the season's hottest toys may have already passed since Toys "R" Us and Walmart discounted some of them early. Walmart cut prices on WowWee's Paper Jamz Guitar and Mattel Inc.'s Loopz electronic memory game. But it doesn't hurt to keep checking.
- CLASSIC TOYS: If you're in the market for evergreen toys like board games, however, definitely wait until after Thanksgiving week for better deals. But don't expect 70 percent off on Dec. 26, either. That's because stores want to be ready for post-Christmas shoppers bearing gift cards, says toy analyst Chris Byrne.
- CLOTHING: Merchants are still trying to clear out a backlog of cold-weather items after an unseasonably warm autumn so you may find some bargains still.
Discounts may be deepened to 70 percent after Dec. 26. Just beware that you may not find the color or size you need.
Regardless, a lot depends on the weather. If it warms up, stores will have to discount cold-weather items even more, says Tom Jacobson, managing director of pricing and profit optimization strategy at Accenture. Overall, "stores are really focusing on sticking to their (discounting) plans," he said.