Time It Right: Sweet Spot Emerges for Snagging Best Holiday Gift Deals

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If you’re seeking the best prices on holiday gifts, Black Friday may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Instead, be patient, and when the second week of December rolls around, be ready to pounce.

The modern-day shopper is primed to expect deals. According to a Deloitte survey, 44% of shoppers plan on making purchases for the holidays only when items go on sale—so they’re obviously confident pretty much everything will be discounted at some point.

But when’s the best time to buy? Deal experts, retail analysts, and everyday consumers are trying to unlock that mystery, especially when it comes to classic holiday purchases such as toys.

When popular toys are in short supply and parents struggle to find them available anywhere, there is no incentive whatsoever for stores to discount them. Retailers know that desperate shoppers will pay full price—or way above to online sellers—for the season’s “hot” toy, especially if it looks like it’ll be sold out.

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On the other hand, if Christmas is rapidly approaching and toys haven’t been flying off the shelf, stores will naturally resort to discounting. What we’ve been seeing in recent years is that retailers have been releasing “hot toy” lists earlier and earlier. By doing so, stores push parents into buying earlier, which could increase the odds of stores selling out earlier—all of which could help the store avoid having to discount merchandise dramatically, if at all.

Considering all the shenanigans being played by retailers, the folks at dealnews have analyzed the sales and prices of last year’s hot gift items, and come to the conclusion that shoppers should bite on toys in early November, or even during Black Friday weekend. Here’s why:

Last year nearly all of the toys we saw deals on hit their price lows during the two weeks leading up to Christmas.

During the second and third week of December 2011, many toys deemed “hot” by Toys R Us were marked down by 50% of more. For the most part, shoppers should expect more of the same this year. Seeing as the majority of “hot” toys cost $50 or more at full price this year, the potential savings (or overspending) can be huge.

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It’s not just toy buyers who can benefit by waiting until after the Black Friday period has passed. In fact, the perception is growing that Black Friday is irrelevant because retailers launch holiday sales and promotions long before Thanksgiving nowadays. What’s more, as data gathered for the Wall Street Journal demonstrated, prices for many goods—kitchen appliances, large-screen TVs, clothing—aren’t necessarily the cheapest around Black Friday.

That goes for online purchases as well. After releasing the results of MarketLive’s “Multi-Channel Shopper” survey, company founder and chairman Ken Burke predicted (via InternetRetailer) the peak period for deep e-retail discounting would be the second week in December:

Burke says it’s important to consider the dates holidays fall on when deciding when to begin offering discounted prices to stimulate sales. After four years of conducting the survey and watching how the subsequent holiday shopping season plays out, Burke predicts that e-retailers will begin pushing deeper discounts this year a little later than usual, between Dec. 8 and 15.

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That period, of course, coincides with the week dealnews highlights as the primo time for snagging hot toys at bargain prices. Man, that’ll be some busy week for deal hunters! (And, for many consumers, probably a very unproductive week at work.)

It could also be quite a frustrating week for the folks who have already finished their shopping lists, as it dawns on them that they’ve paid way more than necessary.

There are sure to be exceptions to the rule that prices will be most attractive during that second or third week of December. Jewelry tends to get more expensive as Christmas nears, as retailers play off the idea that last-minute shoppers are growing increasingly desperate. Black Friday will probably have its share of astoundingly inexpensive TVs and electronics, though, as Consumer Reports notes, the cheapest items tend to be off-brand models that don’t hold up—and turn out to be poor values in the long run.

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There’s also the possibility that some toy becomes such a hit that, for week after week, stores sell out soon after placing them on shelves—at full price, of course.