With only a handful of days left til Christmas, experts say last-minute shoppers may still find sales -- but on a smaller selection of items.
The National Retail Federation revised its holiday forecast Thursday, projecting a 3.8% increase in sales to a total of $469.1 billion. Previously, it expected an "average" 2.8% increase. But while sales are up, surveys indicate shoppers are far from done. According to the NRF, only 7.6% have finished their shopping -- and another 16.5% have yet to start. Meanwhile, 20% have held off on a big-ticket holiday purchase in hopes of a last-minute deal, says coupon site RetailMeNot.com. They may not have waited in vain: Stores are likely to offer splashy sales on what is usually one of the busiest shopping times of the year, says Michelle Madhok, founder of sale-tracking site Shefinds.com.
But how deep those discounts will be, and to what extent the merchandise will be available, is iffier, says Jeff Green, an independent retail analyst. Deals on video game consoles, movies and other electronics have largely dried up since Black Friday, and those for flat-screens haven't yet been good enough to attract many buyers. Most prices in other categories will probably be nearly as good as Black Friday, he says, but inventory is likely to be scarce. "In apparel, the stores appear to have size small, and then extra large. No mediums, no larges," he says.
Retail experts advise shopping these three categories for the biggest selection of last-minute bargains:
Cold weather drives sales of coats, scarves and other winter wear, but November was relatively balmy, with few snowstorms to speak of, says Scott Bernhardt, chief operating officer of Planalytics, a research firm that studies the weather's impact on retail. As a result, sales are good -- and inventory is still fairly high. Gap, for example, has up to 60% off coats, while Saks has up to 40% off. Macy's "wrap it up" sale has 40% to 50% off coats, plus an extra 20% off with an online promo code or in-store savings pass.
There was no one hot holiday toy this year, which means stores are still pushing a variety of popular items to clear shelves, Madhok says. Toys R Us has named its current sale, good through Dec. 17, "our lowest prices ever." Deals include $50 off an Imaginarium train table (regularly $170) and $30 off a $120 Home Depot building workshop, plus free shipping on orders of $49 or more. Target, Wal-Mart and Amazon also have a wide variety of toys on sale, with free shipping offers still in play.
"Electronics surprisingly seem to have more inventory left over than I would ever thought," Green says. Look to slow-selling categories like televisions (especially high-end sets) and digital cameras. But shoppers buying for themselves may want to wait prices will go still lower come January, he says. Best Buy has up to 44% off digital cameras. DealNews.com found four big TV deals at stores including Wal-Mart and TigerDirect.com.