The personalized shopping website Shop It To Me recently ranked the year’s best holiday weekends for bargain-hunting consumers. The top time for deals may come as a surprise: Labor Day. Wait, Labor Day? Really?
According to data collected by the site, last year’s Labor Day period—which actually included the week before and after the holiday weekend—featured average discounts of 48.4%. “That’s significantly better than the highly touted Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, when discounts averaged a mere 41-42% off,” the site states. It’s also better than the average discounts on Memorial Day (42%), the Fourth of July (43.5%), New Year’s Day (44.2%), Columbus Day (45.2%), and President’s Day (46.7%).
If you’re the type who gets excited about snagging 20% off, and who almost never manages to find discounts in the range of 40% or 50% off, you may be wondering: Where the heck do these numbers come from?
In its blog post about Labor Day, Shop It To Me notes that it “analyzed nearly 700,000 markdowns throughout 2011 available from over 150+ online retailers” to gather the data concerning holiday discounts. Elsewhere on the site, it’s revealed that Shop It To Me only tracks clothing and accessories—no electronics, toys, or other products commonly searched for online.
In other words, the average doesn’t factor in full-priced items (sale merchandise only). It also doesn’t factor in prices at brick-and-mortar sellers (online retailers only). And, of course, it doesn’t factor in any items that aren’t clothing or accessories.
But at the very least, don’t the numbers indicate that the Labor Day period is good for finding deals on clothes? Well, maybe. Most experts say that early September is a fine time for bargains on most goods that are in high demand primarily in the summer—barbecue grills, power washers and other “summer project” tools, and warm-weather clothing like swimsuits, tank tops, and shorts. Back-to-school supplies are usually cheap then too, because by the time Labor Day hits, most kids are already back in school, and (in theory) their notebooks, glue, and protractors should have already been purchased. In all cases, retailers are willing to unload these goods on the cheap so that they can focus on merchandise that’s in higher demand among shoppers.
Based on Shop It To Me’s numbers, it looks like the clothes that are on sale online during Labor Day are offered at quite substantial discounts. However, not all clothes are on sale over Labor Day. The newest lines of fall and winter items, for instance, are unlikely to be discounted so early in the season.
Shop It To Me also suggests that pretty much any time in August is a terrific opportunity for finding clothing discounts, and that advice is directly the opposite of Moneyland contributor Mark Di Vincenzo, author of Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon, a best-selling guide for when and how to find the best deals on pretty much everything. Instead of hunting for clothes in August, or even September, Di Vincenzo writes: “Shoppers who can wait until mid-October — or early November at the latest — will see some of the best deals, and the very best selections, of the year.”
Brad Wilson, founder of the discount-tracking site BradsDeals.com, says that, all things considered, the Black Friday-Cyber Monday period still gives consumers the best chances for snagging deals. The average retailer coupon code on Cyber Monday has been measuring nearly 30%, he says, and the size of both crowds and discounts on Black Friday go hand in hand. “Stores see more retail sales on Black Friday than any other day,” he says. “They can spread their fixed costs of that day over more sales thus improving margins; with better margins, they can profitably discount their product more than any other day of the year.”
So what does Wilson make of Shop It To Me’s claims about Labor Day having the biggest discounts of the year? “I think this one is totally bogus,” he says. “Labor Day weekend is a solid time to shop, but I believe these relative numbers and their ultimate conclusion are wrong.”
The folks at dealnews are also skeptical about Shop It To Me’s numbers. “You have to be careful when assessing a sale based solely on the percent-off advertised,” says dealnews feature director Lindsay Sakraida. “If one single item is marked 70% off, but everything else is 20% off, you can still say ‘up to 70% off.’ That doesn’t make it better than a sale that takes, say, 50% off sitewide.”
She too points to the Black Friday period as the time of year when shoppers can generally expect the biggest discounts. “Most apparel retailers offered their best sitewide percent-off coupon of the year,” around Black Friday, she says. “These coupons usually then stack with any advertised sales, taking as much as an extra 40% off or more on top of already-reduced prices, thus providing much higher discounts.”